Monthly Archives: September 2015

Life As A House

MV5BMjA1MDkzMTI4OV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMzgyNTU0NA@@__V1_SX640_SY720_This movie is as emotionally manipulative as my mother-in-law, and just like any number of  Thanksgiving dinners at her table, I need wine and tissues in equal measure to get through it.

George (Kevin Kline) has an aggressive, sadistic kind of cancer that aims to kill him quick, leaving him just enough time to trick his distant, alterna-punk teenaged son into loving him just a tiny little bit. Hopefully, at least.

Hayden Christensen, reviled for his turn as Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars: Episode II Attack of the Clones, gets the hulking task of playing the repugnant teenaged son. You know he’s bad tumblr_md5dmlfa8d1qb9pa3o1_500  news because he’s got piercings, and may wear eye shadow. This makes parents uncomfortable!

His parents split up when he was young and even though they both seem like happy, loving people, this messed him up bad. Bad enough to listen to Limp Bizkit and dye his hair blue! Is he irredeemable? George hopes not, so with his remaining days, he decides to engage in a little restorative demolition to tear down the piece of shit house he’s always hated, and erect a new one in its stead.

With every nail hammered into a two-by-four, lifeash1a tiny hole in his heart is healed.

I’m poking fun, because it’s very pokable, but there are some fine performances here. Kevin Kline in particular elevates the syrupy material, but I can’t help but feel bad for him when he’s forced to deliver very obvious speeches about all the themes the director doesn’t trust his idiot audience to have picked up on ourselves. Um, dude, it’s called Life As A House. That’s a pretty heavy-handed hint.

You know about 20 awkward mihch-haus_am_meer_113nutes in that the ending’s going to come with a neat bow wrapped around it, everything resolved so fucking tidily, but there are real moments of truth between the globs of mawkishness. If you can bear it, you should.

Advertisements

Unable to Find the Disabled

I have what you might call an invisible disability. I hurt all the time. All the fucking time. The last time I wasn’t in agony was 2003. Some days getting out of bed is beyond me, but every day is a challenge. I work through pain, and smile through pain, and watch movies through an enormous amount of pain. But I don’t use a wheelchair. I park in the disabled-accessible spot, and get out of my little red convertible in high heels and lip gloss and I don’t fit the picture of what disabled should apparently look like. If looks could kill, the dirty looks that come my way would be enough to disable me if I wasn’t already. And I’m not alone:

2BE466E800000578-3220098-image-m-20_1441220530029This nasty note may have come from a good place, but it was left on the van parked rightfully in a disabled spot. The van’s driver had her daughter with her, who suffers from hypophosphatasia, a rare genetic condition that causes bones to break – every step she takes could potentially result in a fracture.

518986849_c_570_411This one was left by another anonymous coward on the vehicle of a young woman with postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome, which affects every organ in her body, causing her blood pressure to drop suddenly or her heart rate to accelerate, leaving her weak, or faint. I’m sure she’d gladly trade you her parking space for your health.

 

Screen-Shot-2013-10-21-at-9_07_43-AMThis awesome note-writer is actually right, for once. The BMW did belong to a young male professional – who happens to be paraplegic. It’s crazy but true: we don’t all drive vans. Sometimes us disabled folks drive cars that look surprisingly like yours! Unfortunately, they do not magically cure us of our illnesses, just like they seem not to cure your stupidity.

Anyway, I could go on and on, but you get the point. As if a lifetime of disability isn’t enough, you also get the fun judgement! And to get to my point (and I do have one): you also get zero representation at the movies.

Well, okay, not zero. But most times that disabilities are depicted in the movies, it goes like this: he was a nice normal guy, ironically loved using his legs until that tragic accident where he no longer could, now he’s super mad and who can blame him, but then he overcomes it, wow, what nobility. As good as both The Butterfly and the Diving Bell and The Intouchables are, the point of the movie is the disability. I’m looking for movies where the disability is incidental, and those are much harder to come by.

Notting Hill: One of Hug30b5319d53197f7bd0138565723779e7h Grant’s friends just happens to be in a wheel chair. She’s not a tragic character, she’s just one of the guys, none of whom are afraid to poke fun at her condition. The scene where they’re all rushing to reunite Hugh with Julia Roberts and she (played by Gina McKee, who is also terrific in Atonement and In The Loop) wants to sit it out because she’ll slow them down but her husband insists, and quickly packs both her and her chair into the car so she can still be one of the gang – that’s what I’m talking about.

Finding Nemo: Little Nemo has a “lucky fin”; it’s underdeveloped after an accident and it nemo-6means he’s not a strong swimmer. But he’s brave and adventurous anyway, and refuses to be left behind. He can do anything his friends can do, and he’ll prove it til he’s in peril. In fact, much of this cast is a testament to accepting those who are differently abled: Nemo’s dad has anxiety, Dory has memory loss, and I believe there was even a little obsessive-compulsive cleaner fish in the tank. And yet they’re all just getting on with their lives the best way they can.

Four Weddings and a F5a3b4b3d51e81ede3d66bca329d7c4fduneral: In this one, Hugh Grant has a brother who is deaf. Grant had to learn sign language for his scenes with David Bower, who is also deaf in real life. Again, nothsaveding is made of his disability, it’s just a fact. Brothers can be deaf. This brother in particular was deaf, and also a lady killer, and also quite sensitive to his brother’s true feelings.

Saved!: Macauley Culkin plays a paralyzed high school student. He’s a normal guy who just happens to use a wheel chair – he’s sarcastic, horny, and tired of his goody-two-shoes sister. He’s also learning to enjoy a measure of independence.

 

Nothing against My Left Foot, but it is nice, and I think, important to show people with disabilities who aren’t particularly courageous or noble, but who are simply living among us, touching butts and stealing the last brownie just like any other jerk. This list is woefully short – certainly I’ve missed many. If your memory is better than mine (and believe me, it is), let me know in the comments!

 

 

Supporting Actors

Today we’re interviewing two Ottawa-area actors to get a little insight into what it’s like to dip your toes into the Ottawa film industry. They’re both fresh faces on the scene and have their own perspectives on what it’s like to shill for work around these parts.

Meet “Annie”, a 36 year old aspiring actor. She’s just recently enrolled in Acting for TV & Film – Level 1 at The Acting Company and has been putting in time at The Actor’s Gym. Annie is finding the courage to pursue a dream she’s long had, and is excited about learning as much about her new craft as possible.

 

donlee

Photo Credit: Dalene Gallo, Picture It Studio

Don Lee considers himself to be a late bloomer as far as acting is concerned, having stepped on a stage for the first time since elementary school as recently as 2008. It was a one-line walk-on part in an amateur production of Cole Porter’s Anything Goes (for the Mississippi Mudds in Carleton Place), but he was hooked. 

 

Annie’s answers will look like plain old text while Don’s will be distinguished by Italics. I am, obviously, the bold one. 🙂

What is the audition process like for you?

Annie: To date I have only submitted responses to casting calls via video audition. After indicating my interest to audition, I would receive the sides. Prior to recording and submitting my audition, I would take the time necessary to practice and experience the lines in various ways.

Don: It’s not too stressful and I think the worst part is not getting any significant direction to understand fully what is wanted in the role. However, I read a quote recently from a big-name star (so big that I’ve forgotten his name!) and I try to keep his advice in mind: don’t go in with a mindset of “I hope I get the part.” Go in knowing that the Director and Producer have a problem: they have to find the right person to fill the role, and YOU are that right person!

What unique ways have you used to get noticed?

Annie: To start out I started posting questions in online forums, including Facebook. I got a lot of positive feedback following expressing my desire to get into acting. I have also taken head shots and posted them in public forums online. In doing this, I made a connection with a local filmmaker/director/videographer that helped me with my first cold read as well as recorded my first response to an audition.

Don: I have joined all the relevant Facebook pages that I’ve found, established relationships by making comments, etc. I’m also quite willing to do freebies for small independents in order to meet and be seen by more people and spread my name around as much as possible. I also think the basics of all working relationships are important: show up on time, do what you’re told, keep quiet on set, etc.

I had no concept of how much Facebook was playing a role in getting people noticed, and I hadn’t considered, but clearly should have, how the internet is helping casting producers cast a wider net in terms of seeing people for auditions from all over the world.

How do you prepare for a role?

Don:  I try not to make too many assumptions about how to portray my character until I learn what the Director wants; there seems little point in getting a certain persona down pat and then finding out that the Director wants a totally different interpretation. I guess my main goal is to get the lines flowing smoothly and then try to follow direction.

Do you think it’s more important to have brilliant writing or strong direction, and why?

Annie: I think that both are equally important and that they complement one another. Strong writing is important as it enables the actor to envision what the writer’s idea of the character is. It provides context for the development and the actor’s presentation of the character. Strong direction is important because it sets the parameters, the boundaries for the director’s vision of the character, in which the actor has the freedom of creativity to operate within.

Don: Both are important of course, and there are undoubtedly directors who can make an acceptable product from the worst script. However, the old saying is that you can’t make a silk purse from a sow’s ear, and there’s also the biblical thing about a house built on a foundation of sand. Thus I have to say the writing is the more important.

It does seem to me that you could give the same script to two directors, and one end product might be vastly better than the other, depending on the talent of the directors. But no director can save a film if the story’s just not there. Unfortunately, I can think of a few movies of late that seem to agree with your hypothesis, Don. What’s the point of a great cast if the characters are underdeveloped? Or the point of breathtaking cinematography if the story is lacking? It seems like such a waste.

What, in your opinion, is the juiciest role you’ve seen in a movie?: I think that the scene from the movie Monster’s Ball where the characters played by Halle Berry and Billy Bob Thornton make love for the first time is the juiciest role that I have seen in a movie. In the context of the movie it was just so totally unexpected and incredibly raw. It was ultimately a moment that made history as it followed that Halle Berry became the first black woman to win an Oscar for best actress for the role she played.

Don: Boy, that’s a tough one, especially at my advanced age and remembering movies that go back to the 50s! The first one that comes to mind is Lee Marvin in Cat Balou, and also in The Dirty Dozen. And I can’t dismiss images of Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones!

Is it more fun to play the hero or the villain, and why?

Annie: I think that it would be more fun to play the villain. For me, I try to be the best person that I can be, whether it’s for my family, my friends, my colleagues etc. As a society we are expected to follow certain moral codes and standards and of course the law! I think that playing the villain would be much more fun as it allows the actor to explore a totally different realities and mindsets that they may not otherwise have a chance to experience.

Don: I have no strong feelings either way, and in any case I have no relevant movie experience. I have done a number of live dinner-theatre murder-mysteries with the Mudds and I seem always to play the villain. I do enjoy that role, especially when the plot is such that you are not revealed as being the villain until very near the end.

What movies or theatre productions made you fall in love with acting?

Annie: The movies that made me fall in love with acting include The Color Purple, Not Without My Daughter, and Pretty Woman. The one that stands out the most for me out of the three would have to be is Not Without My Daughter. I could not have been more than twelve the first time that I saw that movie and I still remember, as if it were yesterday, how completely moved I felt by the heroism and the emotion that was depicted throughout that movie. It was the first time that I had seen anything like it.

Don: I don’t think it happened that way for me, and again, considering my age I had seen a hell of a lot of movies and plays before giving any serious thought to doing any such thing myself. Two one-man shows come to mind though: Henry Fonda as Clarence Darrow and Hal Holbrook as Mark Twain.

Acting seems to necessarily involve a certain amount of rejection. How do you keep motivated?

Annie: Being as new as I am, all experiences, good and bad, including rejection, are opportunities to learn more about myself and the art. My desire to develop the skills as an actor as well to learn as much as I can about the craft are what motivate me to keep trying new things.

Don: I think the first thing is to remember that there IS a lot of rejection, and even the biggest stars have experienced it at some point; it’s an integral part of the process. Also, I try to remember the statement attributed to Thomas Edison when asked how he kept going with his attempt to invent the electric light bulb after failing literally thousands of times. His reply was that he hadn’t failed thousands of times; he had successfully discovered thousands of ways that wouldn’t work!!

In discussing one of your previous answers, Don, Matt mentioned that both Bill Murray and Chevy Chase had been considered for the part of Indiana Jones. It’s hard, maybe impossible, in retrospect, to see the role as theirs. And both went on to have highly successful careers – it just highlights the fact that the director will find ONE right person for the part (okay, maybe a second when the first drops out due to “scheduling conflicts” (cough-rehab-cough) but you get my drift). Tom Selleck, Jack Nicholson, Jeff Bridges, and Steve Martin were also considered, but it’s hard to picture any of them holding the ole bullwhip quite so convincingly.

Whose film career do you most admire, and why?

Annie: I would have to say that I admire Will Smith. This would have to be because he is so incredibly versatile. He began his career as a rapper, which led to his first TV role, on the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Following that, he crossed over to movies and has been starring in blockbuster films in a variety of genres since.

Don: The first name to come to mind is Henry Fonda, and I guess the next would be Gregory Peck. To the best of my knowledge, both had long successful careers without a lot of the notoriety so common in the industry. Neither was super splashy, they simply gave highly credible performances in a quietly-competent way. Afterthought: also Meryl Streep.

What is the movie industry like in Ottawa?

Don: As an outsider moving in, I would say surprising! Until I got involved myself, I had no idea of the amount of on-going activity that exists here. To be sure it’s not Hollywood or even Toronto, but I think a lot of people would be surprised by the amount of movie activity that takes place here on a regular basis.

How do you, as an actor, define success?

Annie: As an aspiring actor, being successful would entail learning the art of acting and being able to embody virtues of the craft and perform either on stage or in front of a camera with competence and confidence.

Don: For me in my specific set of circumstances, success would be getting reasonably steady paying work as an actor. On further reflection, that would be astronomical success!

A big Asshole thank you to both Annie and Don for submitting themselves to our questions. If anyone’s got any questions for them or anything to add to the conversation (have any of you got any acting experience???), please feel free to let us know in the comments!

The Visit

Can we please put an end to the “found footage” genre?  It worked in the Blair Witch Project but since then it just comes off as a distraction and a crutch.  The Visit is the worst example I’ve seen because it tries to add a new wrinkle, i.e., that the 15 year old protagonist wants to make a documentary for her mom.  Except it’s an absolutely idiotic wrinkle because guess what?  We don’t see the finished product here [SPOILER ALERT #1] even though she survives!  [END SPOILER ALERT #1] It makes no sense at
all for her to make comments in the movie like “oh, this would be a good opening shot”, or leave in her warm-up interview questions, or present her filming chronologically rather than in the order she’s talking about in the film, and while at the same time leaving no doubt that she has taken the time to do quite a bit of editing because there are two cameras on the go and we cut back and forth between them as we would if we were watching a regular movie.  So if this child prodigy is so serious about her craft, why didn’t she complete the movie before letting us (and presumably her mom) see it?

Plus, at one point [SPOILER ALERT #2] the crazy old grandma (who is supposedly out of her mind at the time) picks up the camera, moves it upstairs, drops it so we (and, when they review the footage the next day, the kids in the movie) can see perfectly her threatening knife work that is being performed 20 feet away from the camera, then she picks the camera back up and puts it where she found it, then presumably she goes back to being out of her mind.  [END SPOILER ALERT #2]

So what the hell, M. Night Shyamalan?  What is the point?   All any of this pretense did was take me completely out of the movie and make me madder at you than I was after seeing The Last Airbender at the drive in.  And I don’t know whether the Lady in the Water references were intentional but either way it was a terrible idea to go there.

There is nothing to recommend about this movie at all.  It is not new.  It is not smart.  It is not scary.  It is not entertaining in any way.  Jamie knew the “twist” about one minute into the movie.  The protagonists are annoying caricatures (terrible 12 year old white rapper and pretentious 15 year old kid filmmaker) who further took me out of the movie because if anything I was rooting for them to die.  And then when we finally get to the part where everything comes to light, it’s over in 30 seconds and I think it would have been entirely unsatisfying even if I had cared about the kids’ survival.

The Visit is a terrible movie.  It is among M. Night Shyamalan’s worst, and at this point those depths ought to be very hard for him to re-achieve (and this is coming from a guy who hasn’t seen The Happening or After Earth).  Is there any way we can convince him to just call it a day?

This is a big fat zero for me.  I absolutely despised it and I want an hour and a half of my life back.

Giving Props

We rarely mention props in our movie reviews, but just try and picture Lars and The Real girl without the blow-up doll, or Fargo without the wood chipper, or American Pie without the pie. You can’t! Because props are actually a really important part of creating the mythology of a movie. Here are some of my favourite, but be sure to share yours in the comments!

tom-hanks-wilsonI bet this guy is instantly recognizable to you, and I bet you even know his name. Wilson the volleyball was Tom Hanks’ costar in Castaway. Hanks is all alone on a desert island until he unwraps this friend and gives him a smiling face. Pretty soon they’re sharing good times and conversation, and when Wilson is lost during a storm, it’s one of the most heart breaking scenes of the movie.

raquelHow about this one? Ring any bells? It’s a Raquel Welch poster, and it’s seen in The Shawshank Redemption. Andy (Tim Robbins) uses this and other posters over a 17 year period to conceal the tunnel he’s been methodically digging with a rock hammer. When the warden finds his cell empty one morning, he angrily throws a rock that tears a hole through poster, revealing its hidden secret. Andy has escaped.shawshank-tunnel

 

 

 

 

alarmThis, of course, is Bill Murray’s alarm clock in Groundhog Day. A frustrated TV reporter providing lacklustre groundhog day coverage, he realizes that he’s stuck in a time loop and he’s the only one who knows it. Every day when this clock flips over to 6am and starts playing I Got You, Babe, Bill Murray is doomed to repeat the same day. He goes from reckless hedonism to eventually a little personal growth, but the clock just keeps telling time.

empire-greatest-romantic-gestures-say-anythingThis is Lloyd Dobler, and that is Lloyd Dobler’s boombox. When John Cusack lifts this hulking music machine above his shoulders to win back the girl of his dreams, we know he’s serious. And so does she. It’s a 1980s serenade that inspired untold tributes and bolstered Peter Gabriel’s In Your Eyes to the top of the charts.

 

maltesefalconThe Maltese falcon from The Maltese Falcon: hard to get more iconic than this. Humphrey Bogart plays P.I. Sam Spade, who wrangles a trio of clients all trying to get their hands on the jewel-encrusted bird statuette. Carved by American sculptor Fred Sexton, the falcon is perhaps THE prime example of a MacGuffin, a plot device that motivates the characters of the story, but has otherwise very little relevance. Still, different versions of the falcon always sell when they come up at auction and fetch very high prices – a metal version sold in 2013 for over $4 000 000.

 

 

Episode_4_Luke_Skywalker_1.jpgI am somewhat loathe to include this one because I am no Star Wars fan (never having seen the films) – but really, how could I not? Nearly 40 years after the movie’s release, kids are still playing with these, and grown-ups are too. And look at the thing: it really is so damn cool. I irresistible to the 12-year-old boy, and chub-inducing to any 30-year-old still living in his parents’ basement. The light saber is probably the most iconic weapon in film history. Korean animator Nelson Shin brought it to life by drawing the light with a rotoscope. Its sound effects were designed by Ben Burtt, who layered the hum of an idling interlock motor in an old movie projector with the interference caused by a TV set to get their distinctive noise. John Stears built the hilt from old press camera flash batter packs; set decorator Roger Christian added some surface details, and George Lucas suggested adding a clip so Luke could hang it from his belt. A star is born.

legThe leg lamp from A Christmas Story. Classic. The super big time award that could only come out of a box stamped frah-gee-leh: the soft glow of electric sex gleaming in the window. This lamp is not only instantly recognizable, it’s also zealously reproduced. Thousands of homes have a replica of this lamp and we can only guess at how many battles have been won or lost as a result.

 

 

 

bttf_time_machine_ebay_leadConfession time: I once dated a man who owned a DeLorean. DeLorean owners are a breed all of their own. They’ve formed a club, and the club meetings consist of getting their cars together, usually in the parking lot of a hand-carwash, and gently stroking their cars under the gaze of their fellow DeLoreaners. Aside from that bout of creepiness, this car was an instant standout in the Back to the Future films, so awesome for its completely 80s vibe, its distinctive gull-wing doors, it could be the only car to be turned into a time machine by the kooky Doc. Six were made for the film and only 3 of those remain – we saw one this summer at Universal Studios. 9000 were produced around 1981 in real life, and 6500 of those are still kicking around today, creeping out girls in car clubs all across this great country of ours.

heartoceanThe Heart of the Ocean: Bill Paxton spends the entirety of the movie Titanic looking for this necklace, which he believes went down with the ship. Rose’s (Kate Winslet) billionaire boyfriend gives it to her, and she wears it while posing otherwise nude for Jack. It’s a fictional blue diamond, humongous of course, and it inspired the jewel-lust of multitudes of weepy women. London jewelers Asprey & Garrard set cubic zirconias in white gold to make the prop in the film but afterward they were commissioned to create an “authentic” Heart of the Ocean using platinum, a 171-carat sapphire and 103 diamonds. It was donated to Sotheby’s to benefit the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund and was sold for $1.4 million – with the understanding that Celine Dion could wear it 2 nights later at the Academy Awards. The J. Peterman Company would go on to sell cheap knock-offs for wives who just weren’t important enough for the real thing.

zoltarTo me, Zoltar never existed outside of the movie Big. The two are inseparable, and although I may occasionally come across one on a boardwalk somewhere, it always feels like a movie prop to me. Young Josh puts a coin into an antique arcade fortune-teller machine called Zoltar Speaks, and wishes to be big. It spits out a card saying “Your wish is granted” and despite the fact that the machine was unplugged the whole time, he does indeed wake up in Tom Hanks body the next day, which, let’s face it, would freak anyone out.

staplerExcuse me, I believe you have my stapler. Poor Milton. He really gets the shaft in his office, and the one thing, the only thing he truly prizes is his beloved red Swingline stapler. “And I said, I don’t care if they lay me off either, because I told, I told Bill that if they move my desk one more time, then, then I’m, I’m quitting, I’m going to quit. And, and I told Don too, because they’ve moved my desk four times already this year, and I used to be over by the window, and I could see the squirrels, and they were merry, but then, they switched from the Swingline to the Boston stapler, but I kept my Swingline stapler because it didn’t bind up as much, and I kept the staples for the Swingline stapler and it’s not okay because if they take my stapler then I’ll set the building on fire…”

Mary-Poppins-13I wondered for a long time whether to include Mary Poppins’ bag, or her umbrella. She’s famous for both. But as a kid, it was her magic carpet bag that stole my imagination. The thing is bottomless! She pulls out a coat rack, a mirror, a rubber tree plant, and a lamp! What else has she got in there? It occurs to me that now that I carry a purse of my own, any time I search for my car keys, my bag feels pretty bottomless too. Maybe not such a magic trick after all, but you still can’t have this nanny without her baggage.

inception-spinning-top-totem-replica-3The spinning top from inception – maybe the most talked-about prop from the past decade. Each member of the team carries their own totem –  a small something that they’ve crafted themselves, an anchor to the real world so they’ll always know if they’re dreaming. Leonardo’s is the top: in the real world, it always stops spinning but in the dream world, it can go on forever. In the famous last scene of the movie, the camera cuts out after a very long sequence of spinning, and we never know if it was about to fall, or if it would keep on spinning forever.

RingfrodoAgain I’m a fraud because I’ve never seen The Lord of the Rings movies (and I never will) – but even a non-fan knows of this unforgettable prop. I don’t really know what the ring is about, other than it seems to have magic powers – invisibility, I believe, but also some darker forces than that. At any rate, it needed to be destroyed and of course, it was impervious to damage. Stupid ring. So it took three whole movies just to chuck it in a volcano. I’m guessing. I mean, I’m just assuming they were eventually successful. Otherwise, that was a pretty epic failure. Jens Hanson designed the ring for the movie – rings, I should say, because 40 variations were made for the filming – tiny little gold rings for tiny little hobbit fingers, and a special spinning one for the prologue of the first film. None were inscribed; the inscription was computer generated in post-production. Sadly, Hansen died of cancer before he could see his creation on the big screen.

article-2169225-02E3C1FB0000044D-995_634x701A golden prop that I can get behind, is the golden ticket from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Willy Wonka operates a mysterious candy factory, and Charlie is one of the lucky winners of a golden ticket that will allow him to see behind the scenes. Charlie is unused to opportunity, and this ticket affords him (and us) a real adventure of the senses (plus a lifetime supply of chocolate, and a sneak peek of his latest creation, the everlasting gobstopper).

goldenticket

 

 

 

 

waterI don’t know if I’ve saved the best for last, but it is the most humble: a plastic cup of water. But with this cup, Steven Spielberg creates dread and suspense enough to fill oceans. For a whole generation, every time we see rings in a glass of water, our first thought will always be: T-rex!

 

Posts devoted to iconic cars and costumes will follow, but as for props, what did I miss?

 

Pawn Sacrifice

Neither the cold war nor the game of chess are inherently cinematic. Put them together and what do you get? Yawn Sacrifice, that’s what.

Tobey Maguire plays Bobby Fischer, an American chess player so cocksure and full of demands you’d think he’d mistaken chess for rock n roll. Actually, it’s just his mental illness talking. As his nt_15_pawn-sacrifice-1handlers (Peter Sarsgaard and Michael Stuhlbarg) try to reign in the crazy, he’s busy representing America The Great against the powerhouse (of chess) that is the Soviet Union during the height of the cold war (his biggest foe is played by Liev Schreiber). Winning is his patriotic duty.

Tobey Maguire gives a big, showy, emoty performance that I wasn’t totally convinced by. I think I’m just kind of over Tobey Maguire, to be honest. I much preferred Liev Schreiber for his restraint (an underrated talent, in my opinion), and Sarsgaard for his composure. To be fair though, it’s hard to really show Fischer’s particular brand of madness. Some insanity makes for great movie making, because the acting out is fun (think Silver Linings Playbook, or Girl, Interrupted). But a lot of mental illness is much more quiet, more sitting in a dark hotel room taking apart telephones while muttering to oneself. Realistic, sure, but not exactly entertaining.

But the biggest question you have to ask yourself is this: would you pay to go see a chess Pawn01match? Did you know that chess is a spectator sport? I couldn’t have imagined it since I think chess is a real bore. I knew how to play, briefly, when forced to learn during library period in a Catholic elementary school that couldn’t afford actual books. I understand it’s about strategy, out-thinking your opponent, and analyzing the board for its near-infinite possibilities (you can imagine how this kind of constant processing could push anyone to the brink of madness). But I just don’t get how that’s fun. I don’t want to do it, and I don’t want to watch others do it, and bottom line: I don’t want to watch Tobey Maguire pretend to do it. Director Edward Zwick tries to play this like it’s a true sports film, and it’s just not. The drama’s not there. This film didn’t work for me.

Peter-Sarsgaard-og-Tobey-Maguire-i-Pawn-Sacrifice1Whether you’ll like it depends on whether you respond to watching someone’s sanity be sacrified for a board game, all in the name of patriotic duty. And – spoiler alert! – (okay, it’s not that spoilery since this is history) America wins the match AND the cold war (supposedly), but then casts poor Bobby aside, revoking his passport and citizenship, even. Because that’s the kind of stand-up country they are. They’ll use up the last of your sanity, and then leave you to die alone, a sickly recluse and fugitive – and then fight your relatives for your estate when you die. You’re a class act, America.

 

 

Everest

Everest, the mountain, is a beast. It doesn’t care that you promised a class full of kids that you could do the impossible. It doesn’t care if your pregnant wife is waiting to hear of your success. It’s just big and tall and scary. The mountain always wins.

First, let me tell you this: I have a problem with this movie philosophically that means this review is going to be biased. This isn’t going to be a popular opinion, but here it is: I hate everestmountain climbers. I really do. Not just mountain climbers; I hate anyone who goes out there to find the riskiest behaviour possible, and then recklessly dives into it. I maybe wouldn’t have such a problem with it if all they wasted was their own time, money, and ultimately, lives, but that’s not the case. INEVITABLY, they will get stuck. Luck always runs out. And then we have to rescue them. Embassies will be called. Coast guards will be called. Helicopters, forest rangers, medical evacuations: these things cost money. Park services have to divert huge chunks of their too-precious resources toward rescue operations for idiots who never should have been out there in the first place – just one person can cost HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS of dollars. In Europe, they do things a little smarter. The bill goes to the rescuee, who’d better have insurance. But when people go to a third-world country to engage in high-risk behaviour, they call the embassies, who present the bill to the taxpayers back home who, like saps, were at work earning taxable income while these yahoos are out playing mountaineer.

So do I have a lot of sympathy for these guys? No, I do not. Not even if it’s Jake Gyllenhaal in a scruffy beard and manbun.

On to the review:

I saw Everest in all its 3D IMAX glory. Everest has never looked more beautiful, or more brutal. evhighAnd Everest is a real bitch.

1 in 4 climbers died trying to reach her peak until experienced and enthusiastic climbers saw a business opportunity. Jason Clarke and Jake Gyllenhaal play competing Everest tour guides, lending their expertise to guide people up to the peak safely. They’re both leading teams of people up her steep and merciless side in the spring of 1996 (remember, this is “based on a true story”). Among the hopefuls are John Hawkes, playing a guy with not much else going on who really, really wants this one achievement on his resume, and Josh Brolin playing a Texan in a Bob Dole t-shirt, cocky and overconfident as they come.

evcrackNow, you must know that we’re not just here for the visuals, strong as they are. To traverse deep and dark crevasses, ordinary ladders are latched together with rope, and strung maybe a dozen at a time across the abyss, with yet more rope tethering them into the shifty ice. Precarious, much? Now you get to enjoy the sensation of walking across such a contraption, one shaky step at a time, looking past the hiker’s feet down into the bottomless depths where Everest keeps her darkest secrets. It’s dizzying and thrilling and probably not a good idea if you’re afraid of heights. This mountain can be felt.

What I didn’t feel: emotion. Now, going in to a movie like Everest, you’re going to expect some thrills. They probaevjasonbly didn’t choose to tell of the story of that time someone climbed a mountain and nothing happened, the end. You expect a little peril, and you’re going to get it. But you  may remember from several paragraphs ago when I confessed my disdain for mountain climbers. A little peril? Not good enough. I wanted a body count, and I wanted it to be EXCESSIVE. So it’s partly my fault that I didn’t really care whether the people lived or died. But it’s also the fault of the script. First: like the mountain herself, this story suffers from overcrowding. There are simply too many characters to keep track of (and they all look the same in snow-covered parkas), and the back stories are brief if offered at all. No one feels like a fully-fledged character. The cast includes evjoshEmily Watson, Keira Knightley, Sam Worthington, Robin Wright, and a dozen others, and none of them get enough screen time in what’s already a 2 hour movie.  And the story really just trudges along, telling us what’s happening but not bothering to be anything more than a recitation of: incessant cold, high winds, danger, danger, danger.

The cast is great – Gyllenhaal seemed to be trying to inject a little life into his character, but he got shut down a lot. The editing is really great; Mick Audsley keeps us going between the peak and the base camp, ratcheting up the tension with expert precision. And the everest2cinematography is really, really great. Two reallys! Salvatore Totino achieves new heights – literally, and figuratively. He makes us soar, and I had my heart in my throat more than once.

See this one on the big screen. See it for the vistas. See it for every moment of awe-inducing visual adventure – but human drama? Not so much. The mountain always wins, remember, and in this movie, she’s the only character that really matters.

Adopted/Foster Familes

TMP

I don’t have much to contribute for Thursday Movie Picks this week and- in two out of my three picks- adopted/foster familes are mostly incidental to the movies as a whole.

The_Royal_Tenenbaums_53

The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)– This is really the story of one big unhappy family where only one of the kids (Gwyneth Paltrow) is adopted. According to narrator Alec Baldwin, “Royal always noted this when introducing her (‘This is our adopted daughter Margot’)”. The family dynamics get even more complicated when Margot and her adopted brother Richie (Luke Wilson) fall in love, which is either illegal or just frowned upon. Possibly his most ambitious film to date, this is still my favourite Wes Anderson movie and he and co-writer Owen Wilson manage all the chaos like the pros that they are.

moonrise kingdom

Moonrise Kingdom (2012)– I felt so guilty that I couldn’t find room for The Darjeeling Limited when we did Trains a couple of weeks ago that I opened up two slots for him this week. Ranking a close second to Tenenbaums in the Wes Canon, Moonrise Kingdom tells the story of a troubled young Khaki scout (Jared Gilman) who causes so much trouble with his foster family that they “can’t invite him back”. On the run from his troop and the dreaded Social Services (Tilda Swinton), our hero bonds with a sad dumb policeman (Bruce Willis) who is willing to adopt him so that he can be with his true love (Kara Hayward).

philomena

Philomena (2013)– Not written by Wes Anderson, this adoption story doesn’t end happily. Director Stephen Frears and writers Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope do a brilliant job with the true story of Philomena Lee and her journey to reunite with the son that she was forced to put up for adoption by the Catholic Church 50 years ago. It’s a sad story but Frears, Coogan, and Pope give it a light touch, focusing on the chemistry between Lee (Judi Dench) and journalist Martin Sixsmith (Coogan)It’s less of an angry story about unquestionable injustice and more about one woman’s faith and resilience.

Straight Outta Compton

Finally!  It’s hard to say there was a downside to TIFF but it monopolized my movie-watching for its entire 11 days.  And since Jay and I were busy before that doing Amazing Races and Oddball Festivals and other summertime stuff, I didn’t get to see Straight Outta Compton until yesterday.  Which was making me itch a little because I had heard really good things, and I am happy to report that those good things were accurate.  Straight Outta Compton is a very enjoyable history lesson/tribute to some of hip-hop’s founding fathers, most notably Eazy-E.

Having been a 12 year old small-town Canadian kid whDr.DreTheChronic.jpgen N.W.A. broke, they were a little fuzzy to me at the time. But now I’m older and wiser, and since turning 13 I got into mid-90s hip-hop, Ice Cube made a lot of movies, and as my record collection grew I got Straight Outta Compton and The Chronic (and All Eyez on Me), so this movie brought N.W.A. into sharper focus.  It’s really staggering to think of how much talent was in this group and how soon it all ended.  It’s  also staggering to think about how much more to the story there is in the Aftermath, which gets hinted at in the end, and which was a nice touch.

I thought this movie flowed really well and was grounded enough in reality to feel authentic.  Again, since I was 12 at the time, I don’t know much about Eazy-E aside that he died from AIDS when AIDS was just becoming real for me because Magic Johnson had it.  So it was really neat to see him be the focus of this movie along with Ice Cube and Dr. Dre.  I expect that DJ Yella and MC Ren had more to do with the group than just being faces in the background but if you are fans of theirs, you will have to wait for their version of this story to get greenlit in order to learn anything about them.  Fortunately for me, I am a Dr. Dre fan primarily and Straight Outta Compton paid lots of respect to his genius.

It helped that O’Shea Jackson Jr. looks so much like his father, but a great casting job was done with the other roles as well.  Even cameos like Snoop Dogg and Tupac work, especially because the voices are eerily similar.  I felt like maybe there was some auto-tune trickery at play but whatever was done, it works to immerse you in this world if you are at all familiar with it.  And Suge Knight is well portrayed too, he’s a dead ringer for the real thing and comes off as bad as he should.  As Jay said while we were watching it, whoever thought it was a good idea to trust that guy deserved what they got.

If you like hip-hop at all, this is a must see.  And even if you don’t, this story is one that may grab you regardless.  It’s an enjoyable movie that captures a lot of N.W.A.’s ups and downs, and is more or less accurate as far as I can remember!  For that, Straight Outta Compton gets eight police brutality charges out of ten.