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Men, Pleasure, Chip’n’Dale and Downton Abbey

New movies this weekend include the A24 horror movie Men and a nuts-and-bolts look at the porn industry called Pleasure


A scene from Men, which is covered in our weekend movie reviews alongside Pleasure, Chip'n'Dale: Rescue Rangers and Downton Abbey: A New Era
Courtesy of VVS Films

Men

(Alex Garland)

Men is one of those movies that makes challenging the audience feel predictable and formulaic. The artfully crafted and nevertheless worthwhile horror movie about a woman (Jessie Buckley) hiding away from her trauma in the English countryside falls in line with Hereditary, Midsommar and so many other movies sporting the A24 logo.

That boutique film label is like Marvel for film nerds, flaunting millennial directors like David Lowery and Robert Eggers who proudly wear their creative freedom, asserting their skill and individualism. Yet their movies somehow circle back to the same aesthetic and suffer the same flaws: ambitiously wearing their subtext on the surface and feeling hollow because of that.

Men fares better because writer and director Garland (a Gen Xer with millennial appeal) is a considerably more confident storyteller wrestling with bigger ideas. And his star Buckley is the kind of powerhouse performer who can wrestle the movie away from him and give it real feeling.

Her Harper is a widow wracked with guilt over how her emotionally abusive husband met his demise. Trying to find solace in the English countryside, she is instead haunted by an entire village full of men who are toxic in different ways. They’re all played by Rory Kinnear, which is an efficient way to make the most of a limited cast during the pandemic while hammering home the point that all men are the same.

Garland, the director behind Ex-Machina and Annihilation, impresses with striking and loaded visuals. He pretty much leans on that skill when his narrative is lacking, which makes the movie come off as a series of installations and paintings threaded together.

Men is at its best when it’s being visceral; when it conjures up the terror of a shadow at the other of a tunnel; or when a glitch on a Skype call takes a demonic shape for a millisecond but leaves a lasting chill; or when Buckley just holds the scene, trembling. 100 min. Now playing in theatres. NNN (Radheyan Simonpillai)

A scene from Pleasure, which is covered in our weekend movie reviews alongside Men, Chip'n'Dale: Rescue Rangers and Downton Abbey: A New Era
Courtesy of MK2 Mile End

Pleasure

(Ninja Thyberg)

An early shot in Pleasure, which follows a Swedish girl in LA with porn star dreams, is an extreme close-up getting uncomfortably intimate with actor Sofia Kappel’s hoohaa. Her Bella Cherry is in the shower shaving. And the sound of the blade scratching past the lather, ripping out the hair and drawing blood gets under the skin in an introductory shot that’s both shocking and matter-of-fact. The same can be said about the film, which alternates between visual provocations (more Gaspar Noé than Paul Verhoeven) and the nuts-and-bolts behind the porn business.

Thyberg seems to want to get a rise out of the audience while also giving a measured and dutifully researched tour of sex work, navigating the power structures and throttling the boundaries between respectful and exploitative. It works because of Kappel’s nuanced and adventurous performance. 108 min. Now playing at the TIFF Bell Lightbox. NNN (RS)

Ben Blackall / Focus Features

Downton Abbey: A New Era

(Julian Fellowes)

Downton Abbey colonizes Hollywood: that could have been the alternate title for the latest movie about the British aristocratic earls and heirs from the stately TV show who now find themselves lifting the plot from Singin’ In The Rain and bringing it back to their country.

A movie shoot moves into Downton during the transition from silent to sound. The frivolous actors rub shoulders with the imperialists and together they learn to keep up with the times. Or do they? (Full disclosure: I never watched the Downton Abbey series. My first contact with this world was the previous movie, where the romanticization of colonialists and the quaint take on class was a shock.)

The trials and tribulations of passive income earners, where every other scene seems to be a discussion over tea and crumpets on who is inheriting what, is almost delightfully absurd this time around. Plus it has more Maggie Smith. That’s all that matters. 125 min. Now playing in theatres. NN (RS)

Courtesy of Netflix

Dani accepts flowers from Solomon in Love On The Spectrum U.S.

Love On The Spectrum U.S.

(Clan O’Clery and Karina Holden)

After two seasons filmed in Australia, Netflix’s show about people on the autism spectrum looking for love gets a U.S. spinoff. The results are as refreshing, earnest and heartwarming as the original series, minus the cool Aussie accents.

Just as Michael was a fan favourite of the original, the American version is dominated by Dani, an ambitious, take-charge animator and entrepreneur who asks every potential date if they’ve ever been to Comic Con. Watching her navigate her feelings for Solomon – totally her physical ideal but not as driven or accomplished as she’d like – is fascinating.

Also bound to become popular is James, who has two-toned hair, a love of all things medieval and gets exasperated around his playful parents. And then there’s Steve, a 63-year-old San Franciscan who was only diagnosed as neurodivergent a few years earlier; his poignant story illustrates how much ignorance there was about autism decades ago.

Relationship coach Jennifer Cook – who’s on the spectrum herself – is on hand to help out a couple of singles, but she’s not used as much as her Australian predecessor, Jodi Rogers. This could be because the subjects are spread out across the country. And after the refreshing queer and questioning subjects in season two, the fact that everyone is straight in this series comes as a letdown.

Still, when most dating reality shows elicit eye-rolls and despair, this one will make you think about kindness, empathy and understanding, things we could all use more of at this time. All six episodes now streaming on Netflix. NNNN (Glenn Sumi)

Courtesy of Disney Enterprises

Chip’n’Dale: Rescue Rangers

(Akiva Schaffer)

The Chip’n’Dale reboot is irreverent in a way that feels safe post-Lego Movie, taking welcome jabs at the animated industry while borrowing its premise from Who Framed Roger Rabbit.

The movie, directed by Lonely Island’s Schaffer, casts Chip (John Mulaney) and Dale (Andy Samberg) as rodent actors who had their own Rescue Rangers TV show once. But now they’re washed up, alongside an alcoholic Peter Pan (Will Arnett) and the dead-eyed animated characters from Robert Zemeckis’ Beowulf (Seth Rogen). They find a new lease on the Rescue Rangers when someone starts abducting cartoon characters and pirating them to overseas markets.

It’s all pretty cute, though not particularly inventive or involving. And I wonder if this new Rescue Rangers will leave kids cold while it coddles adults who grew up with Rescue Rangers. 98 min. Now streaming on Disney+. NNN (RS)

Also opening theatrically this week

Into The Weeds: Dewayne “Lee” Johnson vs. Monsanto Company

Directed by Jennifer Baichwal

Streaming guides

Everything on streaming platforms this month:

Netflix

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