Tag Archives: Alan Rickman

Something The Lord Made

Everyone says that heart surgery is impossible. One doctor, a woman, thinks otherwise, and she challenges Dr. Alfred Blalock, a gifted surgeon, to think on it. He leaves for Johns Hopkins to undertake the trials, and he brings along Vivien Thomas to assist. Thomas is Blalock’s African-American lab technician. Thomas has all the makings of a great doctor but never had the opportunity. Blalock sees his brilliance and uses him to run the whole lab while conducting important research, but Thomas remains poorly paid, a Class-3 employee, like the maintenance crew, who are of course largely black.

It’s Thomas’s hands and tool-making that lead to the big breakthrough that will save blue babies and invent bypass surgery. Blalock defies custom and Jim Crow to bring Thomas into the surgery with him, but when credit is being doled out, Thomas is passed over.

Of course, in 1941, it’s not just professional but also personal prejudice that must be conquered. Theirs is an unlikely partnership and a difficult friendship – one that will MV5BYjI4YTIyNDQtZTBlZS00YmU0LTlhMzMtNzg4NDY1MjA2N2JkXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNDQzMTk1ODU@._V1_be tested when social pressure doesn’t care how many lives are saved if it’s black hands doing the saving. Alan Rickman and Yasiin Bey (credited as Mos Def) star in the lead roles, and their chemistry is appropriately strained and tetchy. Arrogance, subservience, and expectations make such an interesting dynamic (for those of us watching anyway – I’m assuming much less so for those living it). This movie made me miss Rickman and admire Bey for how restrained and humble he could be in a role that must have been difficult.

This is a true story that was suppressed for many many years and obviously we owe a huge debt to this partnership and its fruit. They invented cardiac surgery. If you know anyone who’s had heart surgery, it was only possible because of these two. If this movie is at times a little slow, it’s also quite compelling, and you’ll find yourselves pulling for so many facets at once.

 

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A Little Chaos

Paris, 1682: King Louis XIV wants the gardens of Versailles to equal the beauty and grandeur of his 700-room, 2000-window, 1250-fireplace, 67-staircases palace.

0626littlechaos1-master1050In the film, his master gardener Andre feels the task is too immense (and the King’s ambition too grand, too exact) and he hires help to get it all done. His choice for the architect of an elegant outdoor ballroom stuns all the applicants: it’s a woman, not very well known, not a member of court, Sabine.

Now, if you know me at all, you know all you had to say was Versailles. I would probably get all beheady if my hard-earned tax dollars funded the place, but it’s obscenely, richly, decadently wondrous to look at. But here’s the thing: this is a movie that just keeps on giving. If you aren’t immediately convinced by the setting, here are three names to make you fall down in a faint: Kate Winslet, Stanley Tucci, Alan Rickman.

Alan Rickman, who also directs, gets to wear the crown as King Louis. Tucci gets to play a mere 624duke, but poor Winslet is the one wrecking her nails playing in the dirt. Kate Winslet, as you well know, is born to play such a role. She’s a period piece angel, a garden fairy, her creamy skin made for corsets, her wavy hair’s blonde highlights catching the sun’s warm rays, making her glow, making her attract the attention of the handsome and ill-married master gardener (Matthias Schoenaerts).

Sabine’s character is of course fictitious; women wouldn’t have been allowed to hold “jobs” at that time, even if they were widowed and otherwise poor, as Sabine. But Rickman’s insertion of her into a known piece of history really mixes things up and brings a level of enchantment to the a-little-chaos-film-201-009piece. The gardens are beautiful, but they’re just the setting for a lot of familiar human emotion: love, betrayal, grief, triumph.

A Little Chaos is held up by fabulous performances by a very talented cast. It’s not quite passionate enough as a romance and is completely anachronistic as a historical drama. Nary a poor french peasant is glimpsed. But if you’re willing to let that go, I bet you’re going pulled into this fantasy as I was.

 

 

Alice Through The Looking Glass

Did my grandfather write this script, by any chance? The puns scream yes. If someone pulls a Werther’s Original caramel candy out of their pocket, it’s official.

I can see glimmers of goodness in this beleaguered movie, believe it or not. Johnny Depp looks cool, even if he’s playing the same basic cartoon character he whips out for every 0523hathaway02_hitn-734x393movie he’s made this century. And the queens (Helena Bonham-Carter and Anne Hathaway) are resplendently rendered. Somebody spent a lot of money but didn’t care that the story was just too convoluted for its own good. What was this even about? It’s certainly not from any story book I remember. And if you a) hire Bort and b) put him in tights, I have to believe you never intended for me to take this seriously. Not for one minute.

I saw a play of the same name in Stratford (Ontario, known for its Shakespearean efforts but this one was “off-Shakespeare” if that makes sense) starring a young Sarah Polley. And maybe that’s part of my problem: Alice, to me, will always be a little girl. Mia Whatsername is a wonderful actress but not Alice.

I was wholly uninspired by the movie and to be honest, often confused. I did catch one interesting part, where Alice wakes up chained to a bed in an insane asylum. Now, to be Screen-Shot-2016-04-04-at-11.43.25-AM-1024x544.pngsure, a grown woman claiming to know of an alternate universe behind a mirror where she talks to rabbits and time is enough to get her legitimately diagnosed. Her doctor, however, through out the popular female catch-all “hysteria” and it reminded me of a list I’d recently seen of actual reasons why women just like me and you were committed to asylums not so very long ago. Play along, will you, give yourself a point for every “offense” you’ve committed on this list, and leave your score in the comments (if you dare).

-business trouble

-kicked in the head by a horse

-ill treatment by husband

-imaginary “female trouble”

-immoral life

-jealousy & religion

-laziness

-marriage of son

-masturbation

-medicine to prevent conception

-mental excitement

-novel reading

-parents were cousins

-politics

-loss of lawsuit

-asthma

-bad company

-bad habits

-bad whiskey (!)

-egotism

-quackery

-fighting fire

-time of life

-venereal excesses

-superstition

-shooting of daughter

-hard study

-snuff eating for 2 years

-greediness

-grief

-seduction & disappointment

-exposure (to other crazy people? or to women?)

-indigestion

-loss of arm

-social disease

-remorse

-severe labour

-infidelity

-sunstroke

Not to alarm anyone, but I’m suffering from at least 7 of these “symptoms” right now. How about you?

 

Tiffing Like Crazy

I hardly know how to begin summing up our crazy time at the Toronto International Film Festival. We’re actually only about halfway through our experience, but if I don’t start putting down some thoughts now, I’m going to run out of usable memory space.

Day 1

Demolition: Our first film of the festival is still probably my favourite. Music-obsessed Canadian director Jean-Marc Vallée (Dallas Buyers Club, Wild) calls this the “most rock-n-roll movie I’ve ever made” and while that’s not the descriptor that immediately came to my mind, I do get where he’s coming from. I would call this movie vigorous. It’s very alive, ironically, since it’s about a man (2015 Toronto International Film Festival - "Demolition" Press ConferenceDavis, played by Jake Gyllenhaal) who’s been numb for the past dozen years or so. It takes the sudden death of his wife for him to realize that he probably didn’t love her. And once that realization is made, his whole life starts to tilt to the left. He becomes obsessed with understanding and improving small, safe things: the leak in his fridge, the squeak in a door, the defective hospital vending machine. A surprisingly confessional letter about the latter connects him to a lonely customer service lady (Naomi Watts) and they stumble together toward truth, just two lost souls helping each other without even meaning to. Gyllenhaal is nothing short of amazing. We see him removed from grief, literally doing whatever he can just to feel – manual labour, loud music, the embracing of pain. Gylllenhaal does disconnection eerily well. But he also has some bracing bonding scenes with a young co-star, the two careening from frank discussions about homosexuality in Home Depot, to the point-blank testing of bullet proof vests. The mourning in this movie is off-kilter to say the least, and jumpcuts and flashbacks keep the loopy momentum going – sometimes quite elegantly, as the editing and cinematography are both superb. Davis busies himself with demolition – he likes taking things apart, methodically, to see how it looks inside, but he can’t quite put it all back together. The physical demolition of his house, of the things surrounding him, serves as an apt metaphor for his sorrow, for his life up until now. It is brutal and quirky and offbeat. Gyllenhaal has been turning in solid performance after solid performance, but this one might be The One. It’s an unconventional movie but also deeply spiritual in its way. Jean-Marc Vallée, when asked after the movie about this theme, responded: “Have you ever smashed the shit out of something? It feels great!”

The Lobster: I realize now, having used words like quirky and offbeat to describe Demolition, that there aren’t words to describe this one. Director Yorgos Lanthimos is a sick man. He has imagined a world not so unlike ours, he thinks, where single people are so ostracized that it’s 40th TIFF- 'The Lobster' - Premierebeen made illegal to be without a spouse. When alone, they’re forced into this hotel where they either find a mate, or get turned into an animal. Many fail. Exotic animals abound.This is how we meet Colin Farrell and John C. Reilly as they desperately attempt to be lucky in love. It’s got the deadpan feel of a Wes Anderson movie, only instead of the warm and fuzzy nostalgia, there’s bleak and panicky hopelessness. This movie won’t appeal to most, or even many, but if you can stomach the brutality, this movie is not without some major laughs. And believe me, you earn them. Sean was having a little post-traumatic shock as he lef the theatre, but a few days a lots of reflection later, he found the movie to be undeniably growing on him. The movie is absurdist and bizarre and unique. It is occasionally shovel-to-the-face brutal. Lanthimos understatedly calls it a movie “about relationships”, and his leading lady, Rachel Weisz called it his most “romantic” yet.

Eye In the Sky: Helen  Mirren and Barkhad Abdi  joined director Gavin Hood in introducing this wonderful film to us – just icing on the cake as the film itself would have been more than enough. Helen Mirren, as you might expect, is completely compelling as a Colonel who’s been tracking radicalized British citizens for 6 years. Just as she’s found them she encounters bureaucratic hell trying to get permission to do her job – that is, to eliminate the threat. What I didn’t realize going in to this movie is that it would not solely be a vehicle for Mirren but a really heleneyestrong ensemble cast who all pull their weight to give this film so many interesting layers. Drone warfare is obviously a pretty timely discussion, but this movie is also an entertaining nail-biter, successfully blending ethical dilemmas with on-the-street action thanks to Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips) who ratchets up the tension. The crux: there’s a house full of terrorists. They’re literally arming themselves for an imminent suicide attack. Capturing them is not an option – they must be killed before they kill dozens, or hundreds. But just outside this house is a little girl, selling bread. So government officials debate her fate. Mirren the military tour de force is adamant that the terrorists must be stopped at any cost. Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad), the guy with the finger on the trigger, is not so sure. You can see the weight of this decision in his eyes, knowing it’s not his to make, yet doing everything in his power to stall. If he’s the heart and Mirren is the head of this operation, there are dozens of politicians muddling up the chain of command in between. The movie is asking us what is acceptable – the sacrifice of one bright little girl to save potentially dozens? The politicians waffle. The girl herself is not the problem, rather it’s the way it would look to the electoral public. How can they spin this? Who will win the propaganda war? Hood does a great job of subtly reminding us that no matter what, not everyone in the kill zone deserves to die. But at the same time, he lets us feel the urgency, lets us count the potential dead bodies if the suicide attack is allowed to continue. And who would be responsible for that? This movie never stops being tense, even when it draws uncomfortable laughter: Alan Rickman, at the head of the table of the dithering politicians, rolls his eyes for all of us as everyone passes the buck. This movie never flinches and it doesn’t take sides. There is an emotional heft to it and I felt it on a visceral level when this sweet little girl is callously referred to as but “one collateral damage issue.” Oof.

'Sicario'+Stars+Stunned+by+Ovation+Sicario: Matt was ultimately disappointed with the film but was still lucky enough to be at the premiere where Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro were both on hand to answer questions along with Canadian director Denis Villeneuve.

We Monsters: A German film by Sebastian Ko about a mother and father who follow their most primal instinct to protect their teenaged daughter even as she commits an unspeakable crime. It’s weirdly relatable and abhorrent at the same time, and keeps asking us what we would do even as it pushes the envelope to deeper and darker places. Many shots are obstructed, Ulrike-C-Tscharre-Sebastian-Ko-175x197keeping shady characters exactly that, a little out of focus, a little blurred, a little on the sly. The cinematographer cultivates a sense of dread expertly, boxing those characters in, keeping the shots almost claustrophobic. There’s a real sense of panic, of increasing alarm and desperation, and it’s not easy to watch. But it is kind of fascinating. Afterward, Ko was on hand to answer questions, and when someone asked him about the recurrent shots of a butterfly eventually emerging from its cocoon, he confessed that at first it was just meant as a metaphor for adolescence, but in the end he was struck that what emerged was a “pretty ugly creature” and made for a pretty fitting parallel.

 

 

 

TIFF 2015: Eye in the Sky

eye in the skyI was disappointed that Helen Mirren, Aaron Paul, and Alan Rickman were not at this morning’s encore screening of Eye in the Sky. Maybe they celebrated too hard after last night’s premiere.

That was the one and only disappointment of the whole experience. Eye in the Sky may in fact have exceeded my expectations. Director Gavin Hood had already addressed the subject of the moral sacrifices in preventing terror attacks in 2006’s Rendition but not nearly as effectively as he does here. When a drone strike targeting several known terrorists in Somalia – who can disperse any minute making it impossible to track all of them – becomes much more complicated when a little girl enters the kill zone. Commanding officers, drone pilots, and politicians from three countries must weigh the pros, cons, ends, and means as they desperately try and force someone else to make the tough decision. Risk killing one child to save 80 children? It’s tense as hell, beautifully shot, and funny. I would be interested in hearing from Jay and Sean, who were at last night’s premiere, whether their audience reacted so enthusiastically to the humour in the middle act as the desperate passing of the buck starts to resemble farce.

I should mention that, despite the absence of some of the film’s bigger stars, Barkhad Abdi (Oscar-nominated for his fantastic supporting work in Captain Philips) got up early to join Hood onstage for a thought-provoking and lively question period. I am not sure when Eye in the Sky is due for wide release but I hope a lot of people go see it.

Weekend Round-Up

Project_Almanac_posterProject Almanac – I have mixed feelings about this one. I wasn’t bored by it, but the story is thin. I like the championing of the inventor, but I disliked the very trite time-travel routine, where the same costs and benefits are explored here as have been elsewhere a thousand times before. The kids are likeable enough but you know what? Enough with the “found footage” thing. It’s done. Let’s drop it.

colin-firth-alan-rickman-and-a-lion-feature-in-first-posters-for-gambitGambit – A movie with Colin Firth and Alan Rickman AND Stanley Tucci you want to like. But can you? It’s a remake, written by the Coen brothers, about an art thief who recruits ditzy Cameron Diaz to pull  a fast one on his boss – and then dares to be surprised when it doesn’t quite get pulled off as planned. Firth is solid and has great comic timing but Diaz exists on a level so far beneath him it’s not fair to either. I have the feeling Firth was hoping for The Big Lebowski but ended up in The Ladykillers. Better luck next time, y’all.

San Andreas – The three Assholes who went to see this together are also the same three Assholes planning a trip to shitty, shaky San Francisco next month. Oh sure it seemed like a good idea at the time. Lots of wine, we heard, those weird, slopy streets, and just a beautiful coastal drive away from LA. San Andreas is not exactly a boon to tourism. Made it seem a little sanandreasreckless to travel there (let alone live there), in fact. But we survived the movie and as of this time have not cancelled our plane tickets, mostly because Sean couldn’t find the number. I watched this movie totally stressed out, from start to finish. Is there a plot to this thing? I have no idea. WATCH OUT FOR THAT FIRE! Is there good acting in this thing? I don’t know, does dodging debris count? WATCH OUT FOR THAT FLYING CRUISE SHIP! It was a disaster movie so jam-packed with disaster that some leaked out the sides. It keeps you so busy racing from one near-death experience to another that you never have time to question the holes in the movie, because every hole is filled with exploding glass – in 3D!

Dear Zachary: A Letter to his Son About his Father – In 2001, Andrew Bagby was brutally dearzacharymurdered. Soon after, his girlfriend, the prime suspect, announces she’s pregnant and Bagby’s bereaved parents have to interact with their son’s killer in order to gain any visitation with the grandson who looks just like him. This is a documentary Kurt Kuenne who isn’t a particularly talented documentarian, but who was Bagby’s best friend. This is a tribute to his friend, and also to the parents who went to great lengths to make a life for a grandchild born out of tragedy. I was prepared for this one to hurt my heart, but I wasn’t quite as prepared as I needed to be. Check it out on Netflix.

Aloha – Cameron Crowe’s greatest offense is being too successful too early in his career. Does this stand up to Almost Famous? No, it doesn’t. And not many movies would. But would people be giving Aloha as hard a time if it were written and directed by anyone else? This film is imperfect. It drags in places (but has flashes of brilliance to prop things up) and it tries to involve too many, which takes away from the central story, which is the one we’ve put our butts in the ALOHA-Movie-Reviewseats to see. Emma Stone plays Jennifer Lawrence opposite Bradley Cooper (what is it about Bradley Cooper, by the way, that his characters are constantly romancing women he could have fathered?). Anyway, he plays this deeply flawed individual and she plays so pert and perfect you want to punch her right in the googly eyes. But you’re supposed to root for them I think, even though Rachel McAdams makes a tantalizing (and age appropriate, while still being younger) alternative. They exchange some witty banter, some banal banter, look at an atrocious toe, and induce Billy Murray into a dance scene. It’s not a cohesive movie by a long shot, but nor is it as bad as the critics will tell you.  The story wants to be more than it is. The movie is beautiful but straight-forward. There’s very little art here. What we have in abundance is white people, puzzlingly, since it’s set in Hawaii, where the census tells us they’re relatively rare and Hollywood tells if you squint hard enough, George Clooney passes for Hawaiian.

goingclearGoing Clear – The more I learn, the less I understand. I didn’t learn anything new (in fact, nothing that’s not on the Wikipedia page), and I think they went a little soft on the former members they interviewed. Has anyone else seen this?