Now on Screen: Friends With Benefits, Captain America, The Last Mountain
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Now on Screen: Friends With Benefits, Captain America, The Last Mountain

Because Toronto’s more movie obsessed than a Quentin Tarantino screenplay (yuk yuk), Torontoist brings you Now on Screen, a weekly roundup of new releases.
For sale this week at the ol’ cine-mart, we’ve got a doc about the environment (shockingly), an adaptation of a Marvel comics superhero title (what?), and a movie where the girl from Black Swan tries to have casual sex with some guy. It’s called No Strings Attached Friends With Benefits. Choose wisely, moviegoers. And to help you do so, Torontoist‘s Kiva Reardon and John Semley have helped nudge you in the right direction. (Hint: it’s Captain America.)

20110721_friendswithbenefits.jpg   Friends With Benefits
Directed by Will Gluck
2 1/2  STARS
20110720_capnamerica.jpg   Captain America: The First Avenger
Directed by Joe Johnston
4 STARS

20110721_lastmountain.jpg   The Last Mountain
Directed by Bill Haney
2 1/2 STARS

Friends with Benefits

Directed by Will Gluck
2 1/2 STARS


So there’s this movie. There are these two friends who are super busy, with super-hip jobs, living super-fun lives, in a super-cool urban centre. These friends also happen to be super good-looking and super well-off. Their life batting average is .500… except in love. So, as David Suzuki would tell you, it’s just the nature of things that these two fine human specimens would come together and celebrate their physical perfection in copulation. The oh-so-important catch, however, is they do it while eschewing the emotional baggage that comes with putting your you-know-what in someone’s thing-a-ma-do. Sorry, what’s that? You’ve seen this one before? No, no, this one stars Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake.
The real problem with the concept of friends with benefits on film is that it denies what makes a movie a movie: emotion. If you want emotionless sex that’s all fine and dandy, you go watch porn. So while Friends With Benefits wants to position itself as the edgy flick of the summer (the trailer has Patricia Clarkson dominating a young man in leather chaps—now that’s a movie!) you know it eventually has to spiral into an emotional dénouement of mutual declarative love. It’s inherently as rebellious as a temporary tattoo.
In an attempt at sardonic distance, the film makes meta-gags about this fact as the beautiful friends, Jamie (Kunis) and Dylan (Timberlake), drink beer and watch a spoof RomCom (one that stars Jason Segel and Rashida Jones, no, not I Love You, Man). As they lambaste the Hollywood clichés of love, director Will Gluck is all but sending winking emoticons at the audience: “Guess how this flick is gonna end, kids? They’re gonna end up just like that!” Now, I like a good meta-cinematic moment as much as the next person with a liberal arts degree, but it’s much more palatable when they are in the service of challenging conventions. The RomCom jokes in Friends With Benefits come off as lazy excuses for following a tried-and-true narrative (not to
mention subjecting us to multiple renditions of Semisonic’s “Closing Time” along the way).
But thanks to some stellar minor casting it’s not all doom and gloom. Woody Harrelson as
Tommy (a quipping sports writer) out-acts/shines/dazzles Timberlake in all their shared scenes (though by the film’s end the continual references to Tommy’s homosexuality begin to feel like tokenism). Patricia Clarkson channels her role in Easy A as the zany, inappropriate mum whose quirks and flaws are outweighed by her heart o’ gold. Heck, even Emma Stone and Andy Samberg’s 30-second roles as Jamie and Dylan’s respective exes makes for a snappy opening sequence. Then there are Shaun White’s cameos, which by virtue of him being Shaun White alone garner a laugh or two.
When all’s said and casually screwed, Friends With Benefits is like ordering steak and getting meatloaf and mashed potatoes. You’ll eat it, but you’ll complain about how you could make the same at home the entire time. (Kiva Reardon)
Friends With Benefits opens Friday, July 22 in wide release. Click here for showtimes.

Captain America: The First Avenger

Directed by Joe Johnston
4 STARS


Joe Johnston’s Captain America is, quite simply, the best Marvel Comics adaptation yet to blast across the silver screen. (Sure, it’s technically a Timely Comics adaptation, but still.) Like every Marvel film from Iron Man to Thor, it will doubtless be accused of working largely to sow the seeds for next summer’s superhero mega-blockbuster, The Avengers. But Captain America’s very deliberate tethers to the larger Marvel Universe mythology only further enliven what is an exceptional superhero origin story, a nifty historical fantasy, and, best of all, a phenomenal adventure picture.
The film opens on a chilly glacier, where a team is excavating a large aircraft of some kind. In the wreckage, two men happen upon a shield frozen in ice, bearing the trademark stars-and-concentric-stripes of Captain America. Flash back to Brooklyn circa 1942, and a scrappy twerp named Steve Rogers (an intensely likable Chris Evans, digitally runtified, in the film’s best CGI sleight-of-hand). Desperate to serve his country, the pigeon-chested would-be superman falsifies enlistment forms to try and get a spot in the U.S. Army. After kindly German-American scientist Dr. Erskine (a perfectly cast Stanley Tucci) handpicks Rogers as a candidate for a tippy-top secret super solder program overseen by Col. Chester Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones, phoning in his skeptically surly shtick without missing a beat) and English freedom-fighter Agent Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell).
Because of his noble soul, Rogers proves an excellent candidate for the super solider project. He’s injected with a glowing blue serum, packs on about 80 pounds of muscle and, bingo bango: the Star-Spangled Man with the Plan. Unfortunately, Erskine is gunned down by a spy from the Nazi splinter faction Hydra, stalling the super solider program in its tracks and leaving the souped-up Steve Rogers as a one man army. After an initial stint touring the country to sell war bonds (in an incredibly well-realized travelling vaudeville propaganda number), Rogers winds up in Italy, where he braves busting into a Hydra base solo, rescuing 400 Allied captives from Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving), a previous candidate for the super solider serum who emerged from the experiment as the mutated super-villain Red Skull. After unraveling Schmidt/Skull’s dastardly plan to eviscerate the Eastern seaboard using the otherworldly power of a glowing cube, Cap puts together an all-star team and begins dismantling Hydra’s weapons facilities.
The period setting lends a good deal of authentically pulpy fun to Captain America, further tightened by Johnston’s sepia-tinted colour palette, throwing back to his earlier high-flying superhero story, The Rocketeer. The Second World War backdrop, supernaturally savvy Nazis, and zip-lining escapades recall Indiana Jones, but with less snark and more earnest, well-earned heart. It’d be easy to discredit Cap as a flag-waving empty icon for American interventionism (he is, after all, Captain America), but Johnston and screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely work diligently to displace any real sense of historicity that may risk turning the film into a piece of cheeky revisionism. And even though the film’s excellent action set-pieces are muddied by the post-conversion to 3D (see it in two-dimensions, if you can), Captain America is so crisp and crackling with wit and energy that not even some lazy digital after-effects can seriously dampen it. (John Semley)
Captain America: The First Avenger Opens Friday, July 22 in wide release. click here for showtimes.“>Click here for showtimes.

The Last Mountain

Directed by Bill Haney
2 1/2 STARS


If you read (reviews of) Jonathan Franzen’s 2010 event novel, Freedom, then you’re probably familiar with mountain-top removal. If you didn’t read it, because you get all your information from movies, then you’re in luck. Because Bill Haney’s doc The Last Mountain deals exhaustively with the complications of mountain-top removal (MTR), a coal mining process common in the Appalachians in the U.S., where whole mountains are essentially blasted to smithereens, and which has been revealed to have seriously negative impacts not just on biodiversity, but on the health of people living in the surrounding regions.
The film’s central character is Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., a passionate critic of mountain-top removal who has helped lobby on behalf of Appalachian communities, especially in West Virginia’s Coal River Valley. And there’s plenty for them to be upset about. Besides the decimation of entire Appalachian mountain ranges, the process has loosed chemicals into the neighbouring communities that have fouled water supplies, resulting in elevated risks of brain tumours. There’s also massive flooding. On the other side, though, there’s the fact that the U.S. relies on coal to produce about half of its electricity, and the miners who rely on coal mining for work.
The Last Mountain is intriguing, if you don’t know anything about the subject. But it works to the same conclusions we all know by now: we should be moving to renewable energy, wind farms will create hundreds of thousands of news jobs, and so on. Haney gives time over to a few stories of families personally affected by MTR, but his focus on star-subject Bobby Kennedy Jr. detracts from the more intimate stories. Yes, MTR is bad practice, and perhaps The Last Mountain will snap people into self-awareness. (The film suggests a full-scale revolution would break out if American people really knew the dangers of MTR, which is pretty hard to buy.) But for anyone who’s read Freedom, or any pamphlet about MTR, Haney’s film plays out like another strained, preachy enviro-doc. (John Semley)
The Last Mountain opens Friday, July 22 for a limited engagement at the Royal (608 College Street). Click here for showtimes.

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