Tag Archives: based on a true story

Hampstead

Emily (Diane Keaton) is a widow living a life she cannot afford. She’s angry with her dead husband, as after he died she discovered he had been cheating in her. She’s alone in an apartment she’s going to have to give up, having regular meetings/lunch dates with an accountant who’s helping sort out her tax problems. Then, one day while hiding from her problems in her apartment building’s attic, she lays eyes on Donald (Brendan Gleeson), the hermit of her dreams who lives just acrMV5BMjdmM2RjMjItZGZmZC00YTAxLTg3MmItMjdlOGVkZWY0MWFmXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyOTc5MDI5NjE@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,999_AL_oss the way on the grounds of a derilict hospital. Before you can say “squatter’s rights”, Emily and Donald are spending romantic nights together in the attic, but what will happen when the accountant and Emily’s neighbours find out?

Part romantic comedy, part self-discovery tale, and part real-life legal drama, Hampstead is kind of a mess. It claims to be based on the real life of Harry Hallowes, who became a landowner because of an arcane legal concept called adverse possession, but clearly many liberties have been taken with Hallowes’ story in this retelling. In fact, one might ask why this claims to be based on his life at all, other than as a cheap way to cash in on the press his lawsuit attracted.  For his part, Hallowes made clear that he wanted nothing to do with the film, so it seems unlikely there is any truth to this romantic tale other than what was publicly reported about his case (with no mention whatsoever in the papers of Hallowes striking up a romantic relationship with a neighbouring widow who happened to be leading on her sleazy accountant, and you know the British tabloids would have been ALL OVER those sordid details if even rumoured).

Incidentally, I knew none of this “real-life” stuff until after having watched the film, and I still didn’t care for the movie. I found it tedious, chichéd, and nonsensical, and now I have even less goodwill toward it.

The Sky Is Pink

When Aditi (Priyanka Chopra) and Niren (Farhan Akhtar) Chaudhary find themselves pregnant for the third time, it’s not exactly a happy occasion for everyone. They have a son, Ishaan, but lost a daughter and are afraid of it happening again. Niren doesn’t want to risk it but Aditi, once a Muslim now a Christian, won’t abort. But Aditi and Niren both carry a tricky gene that runs a 25% chance of passing SCID (Severe Combined Immunodeficiency) on to their child, which means the baby would have such a compromised immune system that he or she would be prone to severe infections with no ability to fight them off. Such babies rarely live to see their first birthday. Their baby, a daughter, is born, and they name her Aisha, which means life. But a trip to London confirms that Aisha does in fact have SCID and without very expensive bone marrow and stem cell transplants, she will die.

Despite all this drama, Aisha (Zaira Wasim, who is narrating this from some point in the future) insists this is a romantic film, about her parents. Married 8 years at this point, they are suddenly in a long distance relationship, with Aditi in London with Aisha, and Niren back home in India with Ishaan. They had married out of caste, a true love marriage. But having a sick kid and being away from everyone you love is a real test on any relationship. But a worse test is coming: Aisha the narrator has already told us she is dead. What will losing a(nother) child do to Aditi and Niren?

Priyanka Chopra is stunning, even in late 90s mom jeans. More than that, she’s really good in this, even as she shifts between mother caring for her daughter’s health to caring more for her happiness. And as one half of a complicated couple, She’s got great chemistry with Akhtar, who brings his best to the film as well. This film is based on a true story, and it feels very much like the actors respect their real-life counterparts while also making the characters very much their own.

At the end of Aisha’s life, Aditi and Niren are faced with impossible choices and they don’t agree. The strain is of course further complicated by the loss of their first baby, who Niren has tried to forget. The death of a child is…unfathomable. Many couples separate in their grief. What will become of Aisha’s mom and dad, who never stop being exactly that? Writer-director Shonali Bose makes great use of flash backs and flash forwards to lighten the mood or break up the bleakness. The movie is overlong but keep going, it’s worth it. It’s emotional and trying but ultimately rewarding.

Only The Brave

Fire is scary as hell and I think societally we’ve all agreed that it’s better not to die in or around one. But some people make their livings alongside it. Are they the brave ones? Sure, some of them. But in my experience, not exclusively. Like any profession, there are some who are called to it and others who are there for the paycheque and while that’s inevitable, it’s also not ideal if you’re running into a life-threatening situation and counting on that guy to not fuck your shit up.

Eric Marsh (Josh Brolin) has put together a crew of hot shots, which is apparently what they call the elite firemen who battle dangerous, raging forest fires. I have not used the word fireman since I was 4, but there’s no other kind in this movie. There are only 3 kinds of careers for women in this movie: 1. wife 2. baby mama 3. porn star.

As the Granite Mountain Hotshots are finally about to qualify, they swell their ranks to take on several rookies, including Brendan (Miles Teller), who’s got some issues, and not just that he calls his mother dude, but I’d say that’s chief among them. He’s a classic fuckup but he’s also ripe for a father figure, so this career path is only half as stupid as it seems.

Only The Brave is based on the true story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots as they took on the 2013 Yarnell Hill Fire. It has one of the highest mustache ratios you’ve seen on screen this century, and the movie has annoying habit of sounding like it’s being written in Michael Bay slogans (it’s based on a GQ article, so, you know). Miles Teller is sporting a blond look and someone either bleached his eyebrows or shaved the damn things off so it looks like he’s already lost them in a fire, which sort of takes the fun of forest fires if you know what I mean. But don’t worry, there’s still plenty to boil your blood: just boys being boys, by which I mean bros being dumbasses, trying to out-testosterone each other with feats of extreme stupidity.

It’s not all bad; Josh Brolin and Jeff Bridges are solid and dependable, and sometimes the story is affecting in a sparse kind of way. But it lost me during its rah-rah-heroes shit and a lot of the time I just felt pretty eye-rolly about it.

Jungle

The (true) story begins when three white young strangers become friends when they meet each other backpacking in South America. Yossi (Daniel Radcliffe) shames Kevin (Alex Russell) and Marcus (Joel Jackson) into ditching their “touristy” plans and joining him on a jungle trek to find a lost tribe of Indians in the Bolivian wilderness led by guide/bushman Karl (Thomas Kretschmann).

Turns out, the jungle is a hard place, guys. But with testosterone and adventure pulsing in their veins, none of these boys stopped to ask “Can we?” or “Should we?”, they just argued over who was going to hold the machete. The first day is grand, and they congratulate themselves on being ever so manly, panning for gold and taking lots of pictures. But then their shoes get wet and the bugs are big and their feet hurt and the whole thing turns into a whine-fest, which is when they get two very stupid ideas: 1. to split up and 2. to build a raft. Build a raft? Has building a raft ever worked in a non-cartoon?

Anyway, long story short, Yossi (Radcliffe) gets separated from the rest and ends up wandering in the Amazonian rainforest alone, for weeks. And you may have heard that the rainforest is quite large, and um, dense with trees but also with stuff that can kill you.

Jungle is a movie determined to alienate its audience with constant gross-out scenes. And it’s hard to know whether to emphasize CONSTANT or GROSS because neither can be overstated. There might be an interesting movie in here somewhere – Harry Potter loses his mind, has a nice relaxing quick sand mud bath and voluntarily gets eaten by fire ants just to stay awake. It’s based on a true story about a guy who defied death for so long in such harrowing circumstances that a two hour movie couldn’t even cover some of Yossi Ghinsberg’s highlights, such as waking up covered in leaches, finding a swarm of termites eating the patches of skin where he’d peed on himself, and sliding down a slope only to be rectally impaled on a stick. If that’s the stuff that DIDN’T make it in, just imagine what did.

I couldn’t help but think to myself that all these man vs. nature movies are the same in that they truly are MAN versus nature. Women are smart enough to never get themselves in these predicaments. Only men are stupid enough to march into a jungle completely unprepared for its realities in inadequate shoes, with the rainy season fast approaching, and an unvetted, complete stranger for a guide. In fact, I think we should rename the genre “men getting what they deserve” and they should all end with said man getting eaten by a cougar from the bottom up so he has to watch. That’s the only kind of karma I’m interested in. Until Jungle gets this re-edit, it’s really not for me.

 

TIFF19: Honey Boy

Oh man. It’s already been more than a week and in many ways I’m still digesting this.

Honey Boy is an autobiographical movie that Shia LaBeouf wrote. Deep breaths.

Now we know a couple of things about Shia LaBeouf: he has suffered a pretty lengthy and public meltdown, and he has continued to put out some pretty worthy performances, albeit in smaller vehicles (American Honey and The Peanut Butter Falcon recently). In a review for Charlie Countryman, I attempted to parse the nature of his problems and his pain, but of course from the outside, you can only guess, and wish him well (or not). But Shia is at that point in his healing where he is letting us in. He is performing an exorcism here. The ghosts in his closet have been let loose – but will they haunt him less?

“Selfishly,” he told us, “I made this movie for 2 people: me, and my dad.” Let’s unpack that a bit.

First, you need to know that in this movie he wrote, Shia plays his father. His own father. Noah Jupe and Lucas Hedges play young Shia and older Shia, though the character goes by Otis in the film. What does it mean that he’s written this painfully intimate autobiographical film, but called his character by another name?

Shia’s father James was (is) an addict, an ex-con, abusive to both Shia and his mother. And yet when we meet young Otis, who is hard at work on the set of a show not unlike Even Stevens, he is living in a dingy motel with his dad. His dad is not just acting as a parental guardian, but as a paid one. James doesn’t work. He takes money from his kid. Which doesn’t stop him from neglecting the son he’s being paid handsomely to watch, or from hitting the child who is technically his boss.

This makes for a complicated relationship and a complicated childhood. And though Otis’s mother is seldom heard from , you do have to wonder – if it’s dad who has custody, just how bad is mom?

So you start to realize that this little kid has no parents. Or, actually, that he’d be better off without the ones he does have. But what he does have is a full-time job and more money than most adults. But he’s also got family obligations and staff who are also relatives but virtually no one telling him how to navigate these complex situations. So by the time Noah Jupe magically transforms into Lucas Hedges, Otis has PTSD and his own struggles with addiction and no idea how to take time out from his busy career and the pressures of Hollywood to deal with them. Until a court gives him very explicit directions to do so (and thank goodness).

But maybe his best therapy has been writing this screenplay. Clearly troubled after the TIFF premiere of Honey Boy, Shia is quick to reassure us that he’s happy to be here with us, but he’s quiet, introspective, quick to deflect to his costars and the director he so admires, Alma Har’el. As his struggles have become increasingly public and undeniable, he is coping with the tools he has available: creatively. But will his creation be his catharsis? And is any of this interesting or entertaining to those of us who have to personal stake in his recovery?

Resoundingly: yes. The absolute best bits are between young Otis (Jupe) and his father (LaBeouf). Mostly stuck in a crappy motel room, the anger between them is never at less than an aggressive simmer, and it’s ALWAYS on the verge of boiling over. Even the quiet is not to be trusted. The tension is awful and soon we too are responding like an abused kid, ready to flinch at the least provocation. If you come from a conflict-filled background yourself, you won’t fail to identify the triggers. Be gentle with yourself.

Honey Boy is a moving, emotional movie-going experience. I also hope it brought a certain amount of closure to a young man still wrestling with his demons.

TIFF19: Bad Education

Superintendent Frank Tassone was a beloved teacher before becoming a dedicated administrator. He has done so much to improve his school district that the area realtors rain gift baskets down upon him because better schools mean heftier housing prices. Everyone is happy. Frank (Hugh Jackman) feels appreciated by his school board president Bob (Ray Romano), and understood by his second in command, Pam Gluckin (Allison Janney). She gets him: she gets his passion for the work, and his single-minded devotion, turning down dates from many parent committee moms while still mourning the death of his cherished wife.

But this is not the story of well-run school board. It’s based on a real event, the single largest public school embezzlement scandal in history. Pam Gluckin drives flashy cars and owns multiple homes, but the only thing she’s gossiped about is her growing collection of husbands. It’s actually surprising she got away with it for as long as she did because she wasn’t overly discreet. Still, it took an intrepid high school reporter (Geraldine Viswanathan) to uncover some inconsistencies. And that’s how Pam’s pretty house with wall-to-wall carpeting came crashing down. A kid reporter. Boy did they regret encouraging the kids to do their best then.

Of course, superintendent Tassone was a little more worried about his job, and more importantly, his reputation than about the school’s missing money. He gathered up his school board and convinced them not to go to the cops. Instead they’d quietly dismiss Ms. Gluckin, establish a pay-back scheme, but basically keep the whole thing under wraps so that nobody’s confidence would be lost, and the upcoming election wouldn’t be compromised.

Thus begins Tassone’s own downward spiral. His meticulous lifestyle unravels. Hugh Jackman does this well. Very well. It doesn’t hurt to be playing opposite Allison Janney who has only ever blessed any project she’s been on with her talent, with her very presence. Bad Education is no exception; it’s two top-tier actors at their best. But their best doesn’t quite save this film, by director Cory Finley based on Mike Mawkowsky’s script, who apparently attended the very high school in question. It’s not bad, but the performances really carry it. It has all these moving pieces involving greed, corruption, and privilege, but it never quite puts them all together.

TIFF19: The Friend

Matt (Casey Affleck) and Nicole (Dakota Johnson) have a marriage like any other, which is to say, to them it’s a truly unique love story that’s had highs and lows, good times and challenges. The ultimate challenge is, of course, Nicole’s terminal cancer. It’s the kind of challenge that makes you set aside the other troubles, all comparatively minor now, and concentrate on “a good death”, whatever that means, especially with two young daughters to be left behind.

friend_0HERO-e1567826414285Of course, life doesn’t pause for the dying. Laundry piles up, sandwiches need to be sliced diagonally, and so on.

Enter everyone’s mutual best friend Dane (Jason Segel), who keeps the house running as the matriarch lays dying. You would call Dane a lifesaver, except she dies in the end. She definitely dies in the end.

Dane quits his job and leaves his girlfriend in order to perform this rescue mission. What kind of man would do such a thing? You’ll enjoy finding out. There are a million films about dying mothers (we saw another just 18 hours later; dying mothers are a trope, nearly a life certainty, and a definite tear-jerker. But friends who will drop everything to truly be there in someone’s time of need – that’s a story.

The Friend is based on a true story, a grateful widower’s tribute to the man who held his life together even as it broke apart. The most interesting part of this story, to me, is that Dane is not himself removed from the grief. Doctors, nurses, palliative care workers – they’re all paid professionals. Which is not to say those people are not also sometimes angels, just that sometimes heroes don’t wear capes, and it’s nice to see a film about them for a change. It’s wonderful to explore Dane’ motivations and mourning, and Segel has proven himself just as adept at drama as he is at comedy.