Monthly Archives: March 2015

Danny Collins

Danny Collins (Al Pacino) is a tired and aged pop singer, still swiveling his arthritic hips in the direction of the slutty octogenarians in the front row of his sold-out concerts. But in the quiet moments backstage it’s just him and his girdle, and it’s taking more and more coke to get him to Danny-Collinssing the saccharine lyrics of his greatest hits.

His best friend and manager (Christopher Plummer) is delighted to present him with a birthday gift – a letter to him from John Lennon that went undelivered for 40 years. The letter’s a great find but ultimately it makes Danny feel like shit. He knows he’s sold out. Now he also feels like he’s wasted his life, and his talent. So like any elderly rock star having a lightbulb moment, the takes off to New Jersey, where the grown son he never met lives (Bobby Canavale) and the hotel managers are oh-so-fine (Annette Bening).

The first trailer I saw for this movie made me want to give it a miss, but a second look caught my attention. The quips sounded smart. They had good patter. Turns out, it’s written and directed hero_DannyCollins_2015_1by Dan Fogelman, who wrote Crazy, Stupid Love, which wasn’t half bad. And neither is this.

The problem is, you know what’s going to happen. You know exactly what’s going to happen. You know not only the outcome, but the probable trajectory.  But thanks to a surprisingly stirring performance by Al Pacino, who’s backed up by a really solid supporting cast. This movie just worked for me. Al Pacino was ON. For years now he’s thrived on doing a bad SNL-type impersonation of himself, and it turned me al-pacino-and-bobby-cannavale-in-danny-collins_jpg_srz_616_412_75_22_0_50_1_20_0off, and away. But he IS Danny Collins. This movie isn’t as good as The Wrestler, or Birdman, but the casting reminded me of those movies, hooking up the perfect actor for a role that feels tailor-made for them. It was fun to watch him embrace the dirty old man. He lays it on thick and Annette Bening keeps scraping it off and flinging it back at him. But it’s earnest. It’s fun. Pacino and Bening charm each other, and us in the process. They are relaxed and easy. And so is the movie. It’s not fluff, exactly, but nor does it have the gravitas of The Wrestler. It’s just a really likeable film, and i think it may have just made Al Pacino a movie star again.




Here’s a film that couldn’t be more different from the teen comedies that I’ve enjoyed watching all week. I’ve been hard at work catching up on all the movies I missed to prepare for Wandering Through the Shelves’ Thursday challenge but I took a break from all the dick jokes to rewatch one of my favourite movies from 2005 (one of my favourite years). Last week’s challenge got me thinking about The Piano Teacher and the films of German filmmaker Michael Haneke.

While I admire the technique and honesty of The Piano Teacher and Haneke’s more recent and Oscar-winning Amour, watching them can feel like chores due to the former’s unpleasantness cacheand the latter’s sleepy pacing. Here, though, is a movie that I can honestly say that I enjoy watching. Even though he’s asking tough questions about class, reality, and deception, he is generous enough to structure Caché like a thriller. It begins with Georges and Anne (Daniel Auteuil and Juliette Binoche) watching and discussing a videotape that was inexplicably left at their front door. The video is simply a two-hour wide shot of their beautiful Paris home. It might just be a prank by one of their teenage son’s friends but, still, it’s pretty creepy. Somebody seems to be trying to show them that they’re under surveillance. Well, the tapes keep coming and the footage starts hitting closer and closer to home and it starts wreaking havoc on Georges and Anne’s seemingly happy home.

cache 2One of the things that make Haneke’s films so unsettling is he’s not fond of easy answers and there’s always a lot I still want to know when they’re over. The mystery of who’s sending these tapes and why kept me riveted from start to finish but is never fully explained. As I always do when I’m afraid I might be missing something, I ran to the DVD bonus features looking for answers and it turns out the director is as vague in interviews as he is in his writing. He said that he likes to leave things open to interpretation because reality is.

Fair enough. When I invest so much time in a whodunnit, I like to know who dun it but Caché still gives us a lot to be thankful for. Haneke’s examination of a marriage full of secrets is made even more compelling by the performances from the two leads and, unlike most Marvel movies, viewers who stay through the credits will be rewarded.

Ten Perfect Cinematic Moments

Fisti has put forth this brilliant challenge of telling what, for us, are our absolute favourite moments in film. Matt has already risen to the challenge and wrote beautifully and vividly about his own favourites, and if you’d like to read others’, then do check out the blogathon at A Fistful of Films. If you’re sticking around to read mine, please be warned that these inevitably include spoilers.

I wanted to pick that scene in Good Will Hunting where Matt Damon, having previously asked a dude if he liked apples, pounds on the window, presses the phone number against it, and asks tumblr_mjhsd2PMYS1qfh4plo6_250“How do you like them apples?” because that’s a great scene. Great movie moment. But there’s another nugget in this movie that overshadows it, for me. It’s at the end, when Ben Affleck pulls up to Matt’s house, knocks on the door, and no one answers. We already know that Ben has always secretly hoped for this very thing: that one day his brilliant friend will disappear from his desultory life and chase the stars. So we know that Ben is happy, but we also know that he will inevitably also be sad, having just lost his best friend, and having no such escape route himself. It’s a very bittersweet moment where not a single word is spoken, but so much is said. All of this is communicated with just a slight grin, but the script and the director have set this moment up so perfectly that it plays on the audience’s emotions for all it’s worth. Love it.

As a little girl, I was fascinated by this movie I kept hearing about, E.T. I got the movie (VHS, baby!) one year for Christmas, probably a few years after its initial release, when it was age-e.t.appropriate. Almost the entire movie holds magic for me. This was the first movie that I remember wanting to watch and rewatch, and wanting to own so I could do just that. How do I pick just one moment? The Reese’s pieces, the glowing finger, “I’ll be right here”…and yet, for me, it was the moment Elliot’s bike first detaches from Earth. I can still almost feel the gulp in the pit of my stomach. One minute they’re riding along, etjust like I did around my own neighbourhood, both wheels kissing the ground, but then the next they’re gently pulling away, with wonder in their eyes, and in mine. That was the moment I realized that movies could tell stories. Made up, magical stories – that there was an infinite sea of possibility out there, not just in my own imagination, but in others’ as well (no, the alien hadn’t tipped me off, it was definitely the flying bikes).

There are a thousand movie lines that have become classic quotes and catch phrases, but I don’t think any have affected me quite as much as “Fasten your seat belts; it’s gonna be a bumpy night!” This is of course uttered by Queen Davis and it wouldn’t have spit forth from any tumblr_mkqpmybgVR1qgvdf9o1_500one else’s lips nearly so well. Bette Davis’s Margo in All About Eve was probably her crowning role, one she was born to play. It was released in 1950 so I missed seeing it in theatres. That famous line was part of our cultural lexicon by the time I was born. There was a time when I hadn’t yet seen All About Eve, but there was never a moment in my lifetime when that line didn’t mean something. Though I’ve seen the movie several times by now, no viewing will ever compare to the first time I heard that line out of Bette’s lips. The timing is perfect, the delivery classic. It darn near knocked my socks off.

I’m not sure if there’s one moment in Up that I can point to, rather it’s a point in myself, that moment when I’m sobbing uncontrollably, reaching for my 3rd or 4th tissue, and we’re not even tumblr_lmgeu8259I1qbbqf3o1_5005 minutes in. Very quickly into the film, there’s a fantastic montage that basically outlines a couple’s life together. Carl and Ellie meet as kids and have a life full of adventure, but also heartbreak. I love the scene of their wedding, where her side is cheering raucously, and his is sedate (remind you of anyone, Sean?). I love the painted hand prints on the mailbox. And I am totally in awe of what must be the first miscarriage hinted at in a Disney movie. It’s done with such tenderness and sensitivity that I always end up bawling. This montage is only a few minutes long but gives you such a sense of who they were (even though they’re fictional cartoons!) that you can’t help but be touched. Thistumblr_n83e5teqZc1tx9vazo1_500 movie obviously found its way into my heart, and at a time when I found myself falling in love, so I guess it’s no surprise that there’s an adventure book in my own home, and a soda bottle cap pin on my lapel, and a drawing of little Carl and Ellie on our wall, and that same drawing tattooed on my back. No matter how many times I watch this movie, I am always bowled over by the sweetness that goes along with the hilarious saltiness. I just love knowing that this is possible, that you can tell a story so purely that makes so many feel all the feelings.

I’m starting to feel like there’s a certain theme to my favourites here. Christopher Guest is one of my favourite directors, I love everything he’s ever done and I’m angry at him for not doing more. anigif_original-grid-image-17238-1417560457-14I might not be able to pick a favourite among his movies, but I can talk about this one scene from A Might Wind. Catherine O’Hara and Eugene Levy, two Guest regulars, are playing a folk duo who had a relationship and a successful career but watched both implode. Many years later, there’s still a lot of pain there, but they agree to perform together at a special show as the guests of honour. During their greatest hit, once a testament to their love, they pause to give each other a kiss, just like old times. Again, I have to say that this moment works so well because the director has paid his dues. The whole movie points to this very moment. I hate movies that grab cheaply for tears and admire those that earn them. This moment is played quietly but the emotional payoff is epic.

Wes Anderson is another favourite director of mine. I get absolutely giddy when I watch his creations. My favourite, and I do have one – it’s that good – is The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. Its ending is maybe Anderson’s finest work- the scene when the whole damn cast is crammed tumblr_na3habeFfy1r5c2fso1_500into a tiny submarine, and they finally, finally find the elusive jaguar shark. It’s great, no STUPENDOUS, because 1. Bill Murray cries 2. for a movie called The Life Aquatic, this is pretty much the only aquatic life we see c) Sigur Rós’ song “Starálfur” plays, and its beauty and melancholy are just perfection 4. the shark is a metaphor, but for what? In the end, Steve doesn’t kill the shark, because it’s too beautiful, and also for lack of dynamite. It could be no other way, but only the mind of Wes Anderson would know this. Gets me every time.

I think a few of our fellow bloggers already have Inception on their lists, rightfully I think, for the hallway scene. It’s pretty crazy. But I’m thinking more of the last shot of the movie- the fucking top. Do you remember watching that on the big screen for the first time? How it spun and spun, but will it fall? We have already been told what it means: as long as it continues to spin, he is inceptiondreaming. If it eventually topples over, he’s awake. In that famous last scene, we hope he’s awake, and yet the stupid think won’t fall. It keeps going, but – oh, is it about to fall? No. But surely it must be close. Isn’t it faltering? Not quite. But it’s slowing down, right? It’s a simple top, but it manages to create a thick, greasy layer of tension is a theatre that’s already exhausted. And then, brilliantly, director Christopher Nolan cuts to black, so we are left to wonder, or perhaps to make our own judgement call, given the other facts of the movie. Is he or isn’t he? It was a perfect way to end the movie, and it was THE water-cooler topic for weeks. It made us question the nature of reality, and whether ‘reality’ was really the important thing anyway – maybe happiness and emotional connection are reality enough. Christ. I’m twitterpated all over again just writing about it!

The Broken Circle Breakdown is a film out of Belgium that shows the growth of a relationship between two bluegrass singers. The film goes back and forth, with sporadic scenes of courtship, brokencirclelove, marriage, babies, and breakdown. We know that their beloved daughter falls ill (cancer) and we know that the couple ends up in a very dark place, but glimpses of the kid are elusive. It feels like a real game of cat and mouse, trying to piece together what has happened to this family, but you’ve come to love them and you root for them like mad, so the scene where we finally know for sure that the kid is dead JUST FUCKING SLAYS ME.

Almost the whole of Big Fish could make this list, but I’m going to focus on the part where Billy tumblr_nj2bmiq8xQ1roe2pqo2_r2_250Crudup is carrying his dying father in his arms down tho the water, and I’m going to try (and fail) to write this without tears. His whole life, his father has told him tall tales, which has bred distance and resentment between father and son. Only as his father lies dying does he come to understand that these stories are a legacy, a version of immortality, never so important as when death is knocking on one’s door. When father istumblr_nj2bmiq8xQ1roe2pqo8_r2_250 incapacitated, son tells the final story: how he brings him down to the river to be bid adieu by all the fantastic characters that he’s known along the way, to finally pass into the arms of his beloved wife, and to finally become what he always was – a very big fish. I find it very moving and inspiring. Isn’t this what death should look like? Fuck heaven. Tim Burton knows how to do death right.

I read the book, pilfered from my grandfather’s collection, when I was far too young, but The Godfather is so goddamned good that it impressed me even then. The movies offer a whole godfatherplethora of perfect moments, but I’m taking mine from the second one, where Al Pacino delivers the kiss of death. As Michael leans in to kiss his brother Fredo’s cheek, he whispers “I know it was you, Fredo. You broke my heart. You broke my heart!” Fredo doesn’t die in that scene, but we all know he’s as good as – he’s marked. He’s always been the Corleone family’s weakest link, but now we know for sure that Michael is the strongest. There’s something a little Judas-y about being betrayed by a kiss, something halfway between forgiveness and vengeance that really paints Michael as a complex man and leader. This kiss gives me chills.


Get Hard at Cineplex VIP Cinemas

Get Hard
The days of sneaking rum into my Coke and worrying that everyone in the theater can smell it are over. Not only will the friendly staff at Cineplex VIP Cinemas not judge you for having a drink with your movie, they’ll bring it to your seat with a smile and a debit machine. If there are three things in life I enjoy they’d be movies, going out for drinks with Jay and Sean, and being called a VIP and on Saturday I got to enjoy them all at once.

There are a lot of drinks to choose from on the menu and it has me thinking about the perfect pairing of drink and movie the way sommeliers talk about food and wine pairings. I know beer makes me ready to laugh, wine makes me sentimental, and martinis make me feel smart. I also know that margaritas that are mixed by Sean sometimes make me throw up so it’s a good thing that I didn’t see any of those on the menu. So for Get Hard- the new Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart comedy- I thought a Heineken would help get me in the right mood.

I’m not sure if I chose the wrong drink or the wrong movie but Get Hard didn’t make me laugh nearly as consistently as its trailer did. We saw Focus at a packed pre-screening a few weeks ago and the preview seemed to be a big hit with the entire crowd, with many of us laughing well into the next preview. All of those same jokes got worked on Saturday’s crowd (although maybe not as well) but there weren’t many new ones in the finished film.

Watching Movies Like A Boss

This weekend saw the grand opening of a new theatre in Ottawa: a VIP Cineplex at Landsdowne. As Matt reminded me, the city was pretty thirsty for a downtown movie theatre, two having closed pretty recently, and the only one remaining, the estimable Bytowne Cinema, is more art-house, prone to running foreign films, and while we absolutely love it (and are card-carrying members), it leaves you shit out of luck if you’re hoping to catch the new Will Ferrell comedy.20150328_190537

This new theatre isn’t just any theatre. It’s a VIP theatre, which means for the privilege of double the price of admission, you can also buy beer for twice the normal price. Ostensibly we made our pilgrimage for the sake of reviewing the place but honestly, just between you and me, we were all pretty psyched about the alcohol option.

We reserved our seats the day before and had no problem doing so, even on a busy opening weekend. We wanted to exercise the menu option, and the website warned us that waiters only take orders until the previews start, so we weren’t sure how early to arrive. I also wasn’t sure how I would manage to eat food on a tray table smaller than those on an airplane, and in the dark, and while wearing a white blazer, but what the hell. Live it up!

So we went about an hour early to tour the new facilities. We parked in the underground parking, which can be validated by the theatre for up to 3 hours (it was $1.50 for an additional 20150328_192815half hour) by the kid ripping tickets as you head in. The first floor has a frozen yogurt place that’s pretty impressive – serve yourself, with a huge buffet of topping options. There’s also a sizable arcade (that was reasonably busy) and a prize booth, and some single-stall washrooms that were still neat. One escalator ride up brings you to the “regular” theatres, where you can sit and watch a movie the way you always have, with a coke the size of your head, and an even bigger popcorn. Another elevator ride up, however, takes you to the luxurious second floor, where they have the VIP theatres (must be legal drinking age, 19+), as well as Ultra AVX theatres (immersive audio-visual experience with Dolby Atmos and massive screens) and D-Box theatres (seats that move and rumble with the sound and images of the movie – not recommended for the pregnant or elderly).

20150328_192307There’s a slick lounge on the second floor, with beers on tap, a wine list, and some decent cocktails. Matt recommends the rusty nail; I enjoyed the whiskey punch. There’s a pub-style menu as well, with selections including burgers, wraps, salads, and lots of finger foods. We tried a sampler platter – boneless wings, mac and cheese bites, deep-fried pickles, and tortilla chips. It wasn’t exactly generous for the $15 price tag, but all items were tasty, and I especially enjoyed the pickles.

Inside the theatre, an usher brings you to the seats you’ve reserved. Every seat is a comfortable recliner. Arm rests with movable tray tables divide you from strangers, but each couple of seats can be made more cozy by lifting up the arm rest between them. Menus are at every station, 20150328_191807pretty much behind your head. They call the menus in here “specialty” which means not quite as many options as in the lounge, but yes, you can still order popcorn or candy in addition to the california burger that I enjoyed, and the jalapeno one that Sean gulped down (Matt found his shrimp cocktail to be good, but insubstantial). Shortly a waiter will be by to take your order, and will continue to circulate until the previews start to run (they ran them with the lights still up, so you can inspect your food upon arrival – I appreciated this). By the time the movie begins, you’re munching away, and I have to say, it wasn’t any noisier than any other theatre. The food is delivered in little cardboard baskets but the alcoholic beverages are in real glasses, garnished and everything! The waiters all have portable debit machines so you can pay in your seat (and tip – a new experience for theatre goers).

The rows are spaced quite generously apart, with oodles of leg room even for Sean, who is 6’6 20150328_195049and used to much more cramped quarters. The waiters slide easily down the aisles with food, but once the movie’s on, they retreat, which is good because you don’t want a lot of distraction, but bad because I could have used 2-3 more drinks. Lesson learned: order a couple up front, enough to last you the film. But do remember that bladders are quite vulnerable to beer!

The chairs are the comfiest you’ll find in a movie theatre, and you’ll want to play with the button while the light’s still on, because these chairs recline. In fact, if you sit in the first row, you have premium foot rests and you can go all the way back – a trade-off, I suppose, because sitting that close to the screen, you’d pretty much need to.

My one criticism was that for a truly VIP experience, I would have appreciated a coat rack of some sort. Don’t put saucy wings on your menu and expect that to go well (they do, I noticed, provide wet naps with every order). So Matt helpfully pointed out that in fact they’re missing TWO things: the coat rack, and a suggestion box.

All in all, we agreed that we’d had a great experience and that for us, it was worth the double ticket price. There was tonnes of staff around (keeping in mind it was opening weekend, so lansdowne-cineplex-theatre-05-500x375likely to be overstaffed). We didn’t wait long for anything, and Matt commented that he’d hardly been so satisfied with service. I liked having better options for snacking, and I’ve never been so comfortable. Sean loved the leg room. The personal space is also a bonus. We’d all willingly pay for it again, and agree that this will change the way we watch movies. But with the high ticket prices, it won’t be for everyone. And if you don’t have my back problems, you might not be as tempted by the recliners, and if you’re a traditional popcorn kind of guy, then the calamari may not appeal. And that’s okay, because you can still enjoy a movie at this theatre either way.

General Admission: $11.99

3D: $14.99

Ultra AVX 3D: $16.99

D-Box Ultra AVX 3D: $22.99

VIP (19+): $21.99

Have you had a VIP experience? Let us know if you think it’s worth the price!

10 Movie Moments That Took My Breath Away

Andrew’s Fistful of Moments blogathon stumped me at first. He has challenged us to name some movie scenes and moments that took our breath away. I have seen a lot of movies and have had many kinds of emotional reactions but here are 10 that come to mind almost immediately. The rest of this post will be filled with spoilers so read on at your own risk.

jurassic park

Jurassic Park- (1993) I think this is where I started to love movies. I was 11. I’d like to think I would know if a Tyrannosaurus was getting close but Steven Spielberg was generous enough to give us a hint: a close-up of a puddle in the mud as the ground shakes. Despite lacking the gift of stealth, this dinosaur scared the shit out of me. It wsa the first time I remember being stressed at a movie and liking how it felt. My mom told me later that I was literally on the edge of my seat throughout the last half of the movie.

Face/Off- (1997)  I was 16. I’ve been excited about movie my whole life but this was the first time I ever thought about how they were made and the first time I became a fan of a director. The face offwhole movie worked for me but the scene that did it was a mostly slow-motion shootout with “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” playing on a young boy’s headphones. The ironic use of the song, the lighting, the cinematography of Nicolas Cage flying through the air firing two automatic weapsons. Nobody but nobody could film mayhem like John Woo did. It was violent but nice.

American Beauty- (1999) I was 18 and couldn’t believe what I ws watching. “And then I remember to relax, and stop trying to hold on to it and then it flows through me like rain and I can’t feel anything but gratitude for every single moment of my stupid little life. You have no idea wamerican beautyhat I’m talking about, I’m sure. But don’t worry, you will”. Cue an Elliott Smith cover of The Beatles’ Because. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen this movie where someobody doesn’t join in reciting along with Kevin Spacey’s final monologue. It’s usually me that chimes in but not always.

It’s a Wonderful Life (1947)- I wasn’t born yet. When I was just finishing high school though I it's a wonderful lifewent through a mad rush of trying to catch up on all the classics that I had missed out on account of not existing yet. It’s a Wonderful Life may to this day still be my sentimental favourite. George Bailey really did have a wonderful life and he finally comes to appreciate it on Christmas Eve, stumbling home through the snow yelling “Merry Christmas, Bedford Falls!”. I watch it every Christmas and start crying every time at some point in the last five minutes. If I’ve managed to stay strong though the part that gets me is “Attaboy, Clarence”.

The Sixth Sense (1999)-  Someone had already ruined the ending for me but my favourite part sixth senseisn’t the twist anyway. Haley Joel Osment has seen dead people all along but finally comes clean to his mom at the end while stuck in traffic.At first, she’s furious with him for wasting her time with such a story but she’s won over by his intimate knowledge of her conversation’s with her mother’s grave. “She said you asked her a question and the answer is: ‘Every day’. What did you ask her?” Toni Collette cries as she struggles to say “I asked if I made her proud” and I always cry along with her. Her performance is far better than the film’s notoriously hammy writer-director deserved.

one flew over the cookoo's nestOne Flew Over the Cookoo’s Nest- (1975)- Billy (Bard Dourif) is so pleased with himself about last night’s partying that he can finally stand up to Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher) and isn’t even stuttering anymore. He resists her attempts to burst his bubble until she hits a nerve. “What would your mother have to say about this?”. And the stutter’s back. Nurse Ratched makes me so mad.

Vertigo- (1958)- I spent a long time trying to get Kim Nvertigoovak’s scream in the final scene out of my head and I will not go through it again. I’ve rewatched the movie several times but stop it before the end.

wall-eWall-E- (2008) Three words: “Computer: Define “dancing”.

Memento- (2000) My friends and I watched it on DVD and enjoyed the experience so much we kept pausing it so we could work together trying to piece the whole thing together. Then comes the ending. We had never considered that maybe our trusted mementonarrator was lying to us and to himself. How many lies have I cleverly planted in my own memory and how many lies have we left behind in our writings for future generations to believe. Christopher Nolan’s best film.

eternal sunshine of the spotless mindEternal SSunshine of the Spotless Mind- (2004) After spending so much time reliving painful and ugly moments between Clementine and Joel, I was quite disarmament whend we stumble upon a beautiful and tender one. It seems to catch Joel off guard too as he finds himself pleading with the guys erasing his memory to just let him keep this one. Now I often call this my favourite movie but the first time I saw it, I wasn’t sure what to make of it at first. This scene is the exact moment where I realized I was loving it.

Grapes of Wrath- (1940)  This is probababy my favourite book adaptation of all time. It’s made grapes of wrath 2of so many tragic and hopeful moments, most of them almost directly from the novel. Director John Ford knew better than to mess with Steinbeck. If I had to pick just one scene,it would be the Joad  family piling into a truck leaving the only hope ththey know after Ma Joad burns the family souvenirs they didn’t have room for.



Mother and Child

Karen (Annette Bening) rehabs the elderly and infirm at work, and takes care of her failing mother at home. She’s angry, and bitter, and fails to connect with others.

Elizabeth (Naomi Watts) is a career-driven lawyer who prefers no-strings liaisons to real relationships and even her boss (Samuel L Jackson) know she’s no good for him but sleeps with movie-mother_and_child-stills-1910658435her anyway.

Karen gave birth to Elizabeth when she was 14 and was forced by her mother into giving her up for adoption. They don’t know each other, but Karen has spent her life wondering where her daughter is, and Elizabeth has spent hers leaving people before they can leave her.

Add to the mix: Lucy (Kerry Washington), a young woman who wants badly to be a mother but can’t have children. She’d like to adopt, but the young pregnant woman considering her has an awful lot of hoops for her candidates to jump through. Is it worth it?

This movie makes you wonder about motherhood. What is natural? What bond exists? Writer and director Rodrigo Garcia does a pretty adept job at picking at the scabs and plumbing brokenhero_EB20100519REVIEWS100519964AR hearts, but he’s a little too determined with wrapping things up neatly, a little too generous with personal growth. Producer Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu has his finger prints all over the darn thing too – provocative, with an emotional breadth and the courage to ask uncomfortable questions. Unfortunately, this movie doesn’t have the answers, or not the kind of answers that all women will respond to. What it does have are some pretty stellar performances by the trio of leading ladies. I have never been less annoyed with Watts, or more annoyed with Bening. It was pretty great, but truth be told, I’d rather be watching Philomena.

Carrie (2013)

While researching this week’s Wandering Through the Shelves Mother-Dauighter Movie challenge,I unintentionally stumbled onto yet another example of one of Jay’s least favourite subgenres: Beautiful Women Condescendingly Playing Ugly Ducklings.

The plain high school girl here is of course played by Chloe Grace Moretz, who has grown into quite a beautiful woman and is thus not at all how I pictured Carrie when reading Stephen King’scarrie 1976 novel. I always found King to be a fantastic and often insightful writer and this moving and- best of all- to the point (he has a tendency to ramble sometimes) story was my favourite book in high school.

Most classics don’t need a remake but- I’ll be honest- Carrie needed an update. At the risk of alienating Brian De Palma’s many fans, his 1976 Oscar-nominated adaptation hasn’t aged well. The dated music and hokey dialogue distract from King’s powerful story when viewed today. (Trust me, I just did). What holds up, of course, are Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie who play the lonely daughter and controlling mother.

Kimberly Peirce seems up to the challenge of providing a fresh take on this story. In Boys Don’t Cry, she told a story of an outsider that was both beautiful in it’s depiction of human connection as well as horrifying in it’s display of our capacity for cruelty. Perfect for Carrie. Besides, five of the six most important characters are women so a woman’s voice seems welcome.

carrie remake

Unfortunately, Peirce follows De Palma’s template religiously, even recyclying the 1976 film’s dialogue whenever possible. To be fair, she does an impressive job incorporating modern carrie 2013concepts like cyberbullying into the story. She softens up the mom a little, played much more subtley by Julianne Moore than Laurie’s larger than life performance. That Margaret White is convinced that she’s acting out of love for her daughter is made much more clear in Peirce’s version. Still not enough to feel like a fresh take on the story though.

The biggest problem might be Moretz though. While Spacek appropriately never seemed comfortable in her own skin, Moretz seems much more comfortable kicking ass in Kick Ass than she does as an outcast. Apparently drawing from her own experience with being bullied, she does the best she can playing against type but it’s never a great fit for the character until prom night where Carrie finally starts taking her revenge.

I still say De Palma’s version is showing it’s age and needed a fresh coat of paint but I’ll take his dated but imaginative interpretation over this lazy remake any day.

Mother-Daughter Movies

TMPIt’s time for Thursday movie picks! This week we’re covering movies featuring mother-daughter relationships, which means I for one have been through about 6 boxes of tissues while deciding which are my absolute favourites. Thanks once again to spectacular blogger Wandering Through the Shelves for hosting this weekly meeting of the minds.


While I’m relieved not to be watching live-action fairy tales or YA movies anymore, this was harder than I thought. About a month ago, I had no trouble making a list of classic father-son dynamics but to Mother-daughter relatiinsips- that call for not one but two great roles for women- are a little harder to find in Hollywood.

Mamma Mia! At first, my strategy was to name as many Meryl Streep and Diane Keaton moviesmm7_L as I could. This only got me a third of the way there when I remembered Mamma Mia!, the only American movie on my list. Judge me all you want but I love this musical. Yes, the cast was clearly chosen for their comic timing and definitely not their singing voices but their energy with the help of lots of Abba music make this a party I wish I was at. When searching for the father she never knew, a 20 year-old soon-to-be bride comes to realize how little she appreciated the mother who brought her up all by herself.

Jay: Consider yourself judged, Matt.

The Piano Teacher The dynamic between mother and daughter can be as messed up as any piano-teacherand who better to explore just how bad it can get than Austrian director Michel Hanake. Never afraid to make his audience squirm, Hanake (Funny Games) cast Annie Giradot as a mom that makes Carrie’s look permissive. Isabelle Huppert plays a forty-something pianist who shares not only an apartment but a bed with her controlling, perfectionist, and manipulative mother. All this withholding and repression leads to some pretty bizarre behaviour when the daughter meets a young man that she can’t help but be attracted to. Watching it can be an uncomfortable experience but it’s never dull and is sure to inspire lively discussions- even debates.

Volver Penelope Cruz got her first Oscar nomination for Pedro Almodovar’s 2006 Spanish volver-cruz-cobocomedy-drama. Carmen Maura plays mother to both Cruz and Lola Duenas, seemingly back from the dead to seek the forgiveness of her estranged daughter. There’s some serious stuff here but Volver is also surprisingly funny. It’s a hard film to categorize but an easy one to love.



terms_of_endearment_3_maclaine_wingerTerms of Endearment – I saw this movie for the first time yesterday and right away I wondered how I had not seen it before. The opening credits contain so many recognizable names and everyone lives up to expectations. It is not an easy movie to watch because it seems so real. It’s not often a happy movie but it’s so genuine and for that reason above all else I think it will stick with me for a while. I highly recommend it to anyone else who hasn’t seen it.

Spanglish I didn’t even realize until now that this was also written and directed by James L. Brooks (just like Terms of Endearment). Score two for him because this movie is also fantastic. Like Terms of Endearment, it is also not very happy but comparing these movies is a disservice to both. Spanglish stands on its own as a story of true love and sacrifice. Just don’t watch these two movies back to back as you may n ever recover from all the heartbreak.1112065277

Jay: I can’t believe I let you do this one! I love Spanglish because their cultural isolation really pits the two of them against the world. Even when they occasionally hate each other, they’re still each other’s entire universe, and when other options start to present themselves, thsi mother is prepared to make the heart choices. You know this movie gets me every time, to see how close the mother gets to love and fullfillment but turns her back on it because she knows it’s best for her daughter.

Freaky Friday (1976) The third slot was a tough one beacuse while I watched several other Freaky-Friday-classic-disney-18104673-900-506mother-daughter movies this week, I felt the other tearjerkers didn’t hit the mark. I went another way. I have to make 100% clear that this is the original Freaky Friday, not the remake. I did not see this movie as a kid, mainly because I confused it with the Friday the 13th series and horror movies terrified me. It’s very dated but it’s fun to see a young Jodie Foster try to act like ar egular kid and then do a very accurate impression of herself as adult who happens to be pretending to be a regular kid.


I’m having a tough time paring down this list. I watched Autumn Sonata (Ingrid fucking Bergman!) which succeeds in being uncomfortable and intense despite subtitles. And I watched Imitation of Life, which pitted parenting styles against each other with equally depressing results. And I watched Because I Said So because frankly, how could I not? As Matt pointed out,acc3e0404646c57502b480dc052c4fe1 Diane Keaton is just screaming to be on this list, and this film with 3 sisters and a meddling mother is a comforting exercise in voyeurism. And Pixar’s Brave – I love the circularity in that relationship, the growth experienced by both women and the understanding that comes with it. And The Kids Are All Right – there’s so much here in terms of a family coming to terms with shifting roles, and it’s striking how much the two mothers complement each other. And Sherrybaby. And Easy A (love Patriciia Clarkson in that!). And Anywhere But Here. And Mother and Child. Nothing like a major health crisis to flush out your Netflix queue!

But fuck it. Steel Magnolias, baby. There, I said it. It’s goopy and sentimental but you know 5a64037be0d86f25_steel_jpeg_previewwhat? The relationship at its core, Sally Field and Julia Roberts, feels absolutely genuine. Julia Roberts plays a young woman with diabetes, and Sally Field the constantly-worried mother. Both are headstrong but you can tell that Mom is secretly proud that her daughter is determined not to let her illness stop her from living on her own terms. Sally Field will give anything, including body parts, to keep her daughter going, but when the worst happens, the grief and anger are palpable and real.  For my money, Sally Field talking to her comatose daughter is just about the most heart-wrenching tribute to motherhood you’re apt to find.

And Mermaids. I can’t help it. The family situation reminds me so much of my own – just a mom mermaidsposterand her girls on their own in the world. It’s not always easy, or friendly. When you fight you fight big, but you love big too. And the dancing in the kitchen: yes! I love Cher’s awkward stabs at motherhood – the funny little food and the ill-timed advice – and Christina Ricci’s weird little pumpkin-headed wiggles.


Now Voyager is the ultimate in family dysfunction. A hateful and over-bearing mother stifles her daughter NowVoyager-Still6(played by the inesteemable Bette Davis) into a nervous breakdown that turns out to be her weird salvation. Of course, upon return, the now glammed up and self-assured daughter is again reduced to a puddle in the face of her unfeeling mother.


Say what you will about Maggie Gyllenhaal, she’s very comfortable showing her tits on camera. Even now that they’re low-hangers and she’s past the age where a bra is obligatory.

Sherry (Gyllenhaal) has just been released from prison and is struggling to reintegrate into society. She’s struggling in a half-way home, looking for work, and trying to rekindle a sherrybaby1900x506relationship with her very young daughter. Sherry is newly clean (thanks, prison!), emotionally stunted, and pretty raw. She’d be a wholly unlikeable character if not for the measured and sympathetic portrayal by Gyllenhaal, who tries inject Sherry with some dimension.

Meanwhile, the relationship between mother and daughter flounders. The little girl has been raised by her aunt and uncle, and her mother is a virtual stranger. Though the daughter is 5 or 6 at most, it’s a struggle to say which is the more mature. Sherry is needy and narcissistic and expects her daughter to respond to her cloying Maggie-in-Sherrybaby-maggie-gyllenhaal-736578_900_602overtures every time she comes calling. Unfortunately, real life doesn’t seem to much up to what she’d been dreaming of in prison.

Writer and director Laurie Collyer doesn’t mince words. This is gritty, unpleasant stuff, and there are no easy answers to be gained here. There are two primary concerns for Sherry, and for those of us watching her: can she regain custody (and for us, perhaps, should she), and can she stay away from the drugs?

I was really riveted by Sherry’s regression. When her father shows up, the way she panders for his attention and affection is uncomfortable, and in direct competition with that of her daughter. It’s sad, and perhaps Collyer tries a little too hard to create a too-inconvenient Maggie-in-Sherrybaby-maggie-gyllenhaal-736557_1000_668checkered past to be responsible for her downward spiral. But there’s real pathos here. In fact, looking back, weighing all of Sherry’s pathologies, the dysfunctional and the desperation, I’m surprised that I didn’t come away feeling that this movie was depressing. Is there a secret vein of hope there? I’m not sure. And I’m not going to call this a great movie, but it strives to be realistic, and you have to admire it for its total abandonment of rose-coloured endings.