Tag Archives: Bill Nighy

Emma.

Emma is 21, handsome, clever, and rich. She is her father’s last unmarried daughter and she fancies herself a successful matchmaker. It is the thing upon which she prides herself the most (and there is quite a bit of pride), but though she seeks the best matches for her nearest and dearest, she has no interest in or plans to marry herself.

Emma (Anya Taylor-Joy) currently has her sights set on  her good friend Harriet (Mia Goth), a young woman of questionable parentage and no wealth. Though Harriet already has a romantic interest in a farmer of little means, Emma persuades her to reject his advances in favour of a better (read: richer) match, Vicar Elton (Josh O’Connor).

Of course, Emma’s meddling could never be as straight-forward as that. George (Johnny Flynn) accuses her of vanity, her father (Bill Nighy) implores her loyalty, Miss Bates (Miranda Hart) pesters her continually, Jane (Amber Anderson) seems to best her at everything, and the sudden appearance of handsome, mysterious Frank (Callum Turner) has everyone in a twitter.

First, let me say I am fully on team Alexandra Byrne for costume design this year. The dresses, the jackets, the trousers, the hats – they all share a romantic, period feel, but they’re all elevated, better than real life, and believe me, if I thought for a second Byrne could live comfortably in my closet, I’d kidnap and hold her there in a heartbeat (note to Byrne, should she read this: please don’t take that as a threat, though it does share the same qualities as a certain felony – I am merely a great admirer with a tendency to over-dress).

Second, Bill Nighy. I mean: Bill Nighy. He lights up every scene he’s in, he snatches giggles like they’re his life force, he’s an absolute treasure and I simply could not get enough.

And of course, the script. I love how Eleanor Catton has adapted it from the Austen. Altough it is hard to improve upon a classic, Catton’s Emma. is a lot of fun (sorry if that’s confusing, the one-word title has a period at the end, apparently emphasizing that this is a “period piece”). Emma is young, obviously, and quite sheltered in her father’s home. In her naivete she reinforces a classist and of course sexist social construct and can’t see the error of her ways until it’s reversed. Austen’s comedy works because there’s quite a lot of tension, quite a few misunderstandings, and some very complicated love triangles.

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Anya Taylor-Joy is up to the task, though I couldn’t help wondering what it might have been had Florence Pugh stepped into the role. Besides Nighy, which is a given, the performances I enjoyed best were from supporting players Miranda Hart and Tanya Reynolds, who add a lot of life to film.

But even with the sumptuous gowns and the glittering brooches and the tasseled coaches, I wouldn’t want to live in this period where a woman’s only achievement is in marrying “above her station,” dead birds are offered by way of apology, and a twisted ankle is considered top-tier flirting.

In response to the closure of cinemas due to the COVID-19 corona virus, Emma. has been given a VOD release. You can rent the film for $20, which may sound hefty for a rental, but it’s less than you would pay to see it in theatres, and while this is still early days of terms of quarantine and chill, even Netflix’s deepest back-catalogue will exhaust itself at some point. And Emma. is a pretty great way to fill that void.

 

TIFF19: Hope Gap

Grace (Annette Bening) and Edward (Bill Nighy) are a many-years married couple. She bickers and snipes at him, he slumps his shoulders and takes it. Over 30 years together, they’ve found lots of things to agree and disagree on, but they’re definitely united on one front: son Jamie (Josh O’Connor) doesn’t visit nearly enough.

When he does visit on this particular weekend, his mother does her usual thing, wasting half the visit dressing him down for not visiting her enough, thus making him less inclined to visit next time. But that’s her way. She speaks her mind. He’s used to it. He also fends off her religious overtures, and ultimately she goes off to church alone, which is when his father surprises him.

After some hemming and hawing he just says it: “I’m leaving your mother.”

Now hopefully we’re all groaning on the same page here: he’s told his son before he’s told his wife. And of course his wife feels blindsided, hurt, and not a little angry. Mostly that there was no warning. She never saw it coming. Now, Edward has some excuses for this: that she’s domineering, that she’d only try to stop him and his mind is fully made up. But to her, this is a 30 year relationship we’re talking about, and it’s worth a little effort, worth an attempt or two to save it. Not that this has stopped her from any of her heated squabbles.

Edward is not a complete idiot. He’s timed this so that he could abandon his wife quite quickly, leaving his son to pick up the pieces. Grace is understandably bitter and Jamie feels trapped. His mother isn’t just sad, she’s depressed, perhaps suicidal. It’s a lot to ask of a son.

This film is based on writer-director William Nicholson’s own experience of his parents’ divorce. It’s a little light on plot or direction, driven mainly by some great performances. Neither Grace nor Edward come off as particularly admirable people but Bening and Nighy give them a little more sympathy than is truly deserved. The collapse of a marriage is always an aching thing. The grown son being pulled between two grieving parents acts as a proxy for the audience, but because neither character comes off as entirely blameless or even likable, we actually feel pulled in neither direction. Instead, we remain unmoved somewhere in the middle, which doesn’t make for a very bracing or rewarding trip to the movies.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

In Canada we have only two seasons: winter, and construction. We are right in the middle of steaming, stinking construction season here in Ottawa, and we’re facing a weekend where the 417, a major highway and our main east-west artery, will shut down entirely. This after a flood season has left our infrastructure crippled and our commutes doubled. Which sort of makes the opening scene of Hitchhiker’s seem a little more likely. In order to make way for an intergalactic superhighway, a little lowly planet called Earth has to be demolished. We meet our hero Arthur Dent (Martin Freeman) just minutes before the Earth’s destruction. He learns that his good pal and towel enthusiast Ford Prefect (Yasiin Bey, then billed as Mos Def) is in fact an alien who can call in a favour to save his friend, but erm, nothing else of human history (don’t worry, the dolphins have already defected – so long, and thanks for all the fish).

They meet up with a clinically depressed robot, Marvin (Alan Rickman), an egomaniacal president, Zaphod Beeblebrox (Sam Rockwell), and most improbably, Arthur’s Earthling crush, Trillian (Zooey Deschanel). Together they’re going to zing around the universe, searching for the Ultimate Question, the meaning of life, a single solitary spot of tea, new chapters for an ambitious encyclopedia, and any remaining shreds of life as they knew it.

Director Garth Jennings bit off more than he could chew trying to adapt Douglas Adams’ influential and beloved work, but you can hardly blame him for trying. Is the movie always coherent? Of course not. If you aren’t familiar with the book, you might find it hard to keep up. If you are familiar with it, there are no doubt bits and bobs that you’ll miss. It is not so much a faithful adaptation as an ode to it, with Adams’ blessing, and mostly by his own invention (such as the sneeze religion helmed by John Malkovich – achoo!). But if it’s a little sloppy, well, what else can you expect from a movie with an improbability drive?

Ivan Reitman and friends actually optioned the film as far back as 1982, thinking it might make an interesting vehicle for Dan Aykroyd and Bill Murray (this is no doubt true). But then Ghostbusters came calling and they were off on a tagent, and Hitchhiker’s languished in development hell, at one point with Hugh Laurie and Jim Carrey slated to appear (I’m less thrilled with that pairing, personally). Douglas Adams wanted Hugh Grant for Dent but I’m so, so glad it went to Freeman instead, who plays the everyman so perfectly he is often overlooked.

In 2005’s finished product, Sam Rockwell steals the show as Zaphod Beeblebrox, basing the character on likely unequal dashes of Bill Clinton, Elvis, and Vince Vaughn. Personally, watching it in 2019, I saw all kinds of his George W. Bush in the role and it gave me a whole new appreciation for a performance I already loved.

Anyway, it’s inevitable that a film adapted from such a great book would fail to live up to it, but I actually give it a lot of credit and find it highly watchable and highly entertaining. So many of the little jokes really do work on the screen, and everyone involved is clearly relishing the opportunity to be involved. It’s hard not to find joy where so much exists.

 

Pokemon Detective Pikachu

After 17 hours of trailers, the movie started playing. I’d of course forgotten what I was here to see. Ah yes, Detective Whatever. It occurred to me suddenly that it was possible that total ignorance was not the best state in which to be watching this movie. Should I have take some crash course? Too late now. But there’s the naked truth: I don’t know what a Pokemon is or what it does or how it works or if it’s the name of the little guys or just the name of a show. I wasn’t even entirely sure that it was a show. I remembered a very popular app from a few years ago that had otherwise sane grown adults running around cities chasing after imaginary conquests, and that there’d been something back when I was a kid – cards, maybe? A show? Pogs? Definitely something. Which is why this movie is not called Detective Jay or Good Memory Jay or Jay Gives A Shit.

What I’ve surmised is: Pokemon are a kind of cute little…animal? With powers? And Pikachu is a type of Pokemon with a specific set of powers, including a lightning bolt tail. The human component of this movie is a young man called Tim (Justice Smith) who has MV5BMWVkMjIxOWUtYmQzMC00YTRkLWExNDUtNGEzOWY1Mjk0MTczXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTgwMDI0MDA@._V1_just learned that his father is dead. His father lived in the big city where he worked as a detective. Tim was raised in a small town, by his grandma. He hadn’t seen his father in years. When he lets himself into his dead dad’s apartment he learns two things: 1. His father was working a very big case when he died – and he possibly died in its pursuit, and 2. His father had a partner, and that partner is not dead as previously believed, but alive, and also happens to be a Pokemon named Pikachu (Ryan Reynolds) that can be understood by Tim even though this is apparently unheard of. Oh and a third thing: his father never stopped loving him, guys!

But anyways. Pikachu has suffered amnesia and can’t really help solve the case, but he’s game to give it a go from scratch, which for some reason Tim is eager to do even though he’s an insurance adjuster, not a cop. It involves a purple gas that renders normally docile Pokemon into rabid attackers. Don’t ask me to make sense of this. The thing is, if you’re a Pokemon fan, or even just know the slightest thing about them, then this movie likely has more appeal to you than it does to me. But for me, this movie was really a buddy cop movie, just don’t ask me which one is the Ice Cube. But since I don’t know the pre-established rules of this universe, I don’t get the oddball pairing, I don’t get the humour, if in fact there is any. Ryan Reynolds lends quite a bit of charisma through his voice, but for some reason it keeps reminding me of Deadpool, which is probably the exact opposite of what this cute little pika pika persona is supposed to project. Although he is a hard-boiled cop. In a deerstalker cap. I don’t know, man.

But what I do know is this: the kids in the audience didn’t love it. And before the movie, I thought, dear sweet baby cheesus, we’re in for a ride. Because the pre-movie commercials were KILLING IT with this kid-packed audience. Telus had a commercial where a flamingo was dancing to She’s A Maniac, and I don’t think that Jerry Seinfeld in his entire career racked up half as many laughs as that flamingo did in a 30 second spot. There was a trailer for Abominable that was a laugh riot. So was Secret Life of Pets 2. This was a disturbingly easy audience to pander to. Sean missed a lot of this because he was patiently waiting in the drinks line to quench my ruinous thirst, and I felt the need to warn him when he got back of what was to come. But it never did. There must have been some laughs of course, and it’s possible my brain was so overheated trying to to unravel story lines I missed them. But there wasn’t much. It seemed in my screening that the kids were underwhelmed. I can’t say that I was expecting any kind of whelm myself. I’ve been perplexed and unanticipatory since I first saw the trailer. And I guess that’s what the movie delivered: slight confusion and utter forgettableness.

 

But you know what? My 6 year old nephew Ben is a real Pokemon connoisseur and he has a different take:

Dad’s Army

‘Dad’s army’ is the home guard and its leader is Captain George Mainwaring. In a very small town in England, a band of merry misfits makes up its corps. Deep into WW2, all the fit, young men are away at war while the rejects and the elderly make up the home guard, charged with parading around and doing exercises and not much else.

Sergeant Arthur Wilson (Bill Nighy) assists Captain Mainwaring (Toby Jones) in their not MV5BNzg5MWMxNmUtNjdjNC00NTJlLTljNzQtNmU0NTFhYzNmY2ViXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTk2NTY1NzA@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,999_AL_much else; they mostly spend their days blending into the scenery. Literally. So when a beautiful woman (Catherine Zeta-Jones) arrives in town, they and the whole town are ripe for some shaking up. Rose is an intoxicating distraction until it turns out there’s an actual German spy in town and the home guard is too busy thinking dirty thoughts about Rose to notice his intelligence gathering, let alone catch him.

Dad’s Army is made up of the very best in old British guys – Tom Courtenay and Michael Gambon among them. It’s cute and silly in an old, doddering way. The movie is just as inoffensive and harmless as the elderly members of the home guard. Apparently this is the movie version of a beloved TV show that I never knew existed. Old fans wouldn’t recognize this iteration but it’s pleasant enough. Yes, that’s a tempered endorsement. Adjust your expectations and you may find it perfectly enjoyable. It’s not steak and caviar. It’s oatmeal. Good old reliable oatmeal.

TIFF: Their Finest

London, 1940: most have gone to war but a few are left behind to entertain the people in this bleak time. The department of war is demanding that happy-ending war movies be churned out for morale.

At any rate, Lone Scherfig’s Their Finest was indeed a boost to my morale. Of course I love Bill Nighy, and he’s at his Nighest, with his signature gestures and snorts. He plays a very vain actor who can’t quite believe he’s perhaps aged past leading-man status. Luckily a diplomatic new writer, theirfinestCatrin (Gemma Arterton) hired to write “slop” (ie, the female dialogue) appeases him by enlarging the role of the drunk uncle just for him. Convincing her boss Tom (Sam Claflin) to let her do this is as infuriating and degrading as you’d imagine – until he starts to fall in love with her, of course.

Keep in mind that though they’re writing about the Miracle of Dunkirk, the war is still raging, and Catrin must decide whether to risk losing the thread of her story every time the air raid sirens go off. The cramped office remains nearly a sanctuary but outside the city is badly bruised.

The war was a time when, with young men absent, older gentlemen and women stepped up to get the work done. Catrin is constantly reminded, however, that her employment status won’t hold up when the boys return. untitledShe mustn’t get too attached to feeling useful or creative. The war makes everything tenuous.

But despite this sounding rather dire, it is very much a comedy, and a bit of a love letter to film making. The laughs are plentiful, robust. The stars are endlessly charming. I haven’t much cared for Sam Claflin and don’t have much of an opinion on Gemma Arterton, but both are excellent here. Nighy of course, is a prize scene-stealer, and he deftly makes away with every one he’s in. Sometimes the war is seen through rose-tinted glasses (a nostalgic effect?) but when the war does assert itself, it leaves a crater. This one’s not to be missed.

Norm of the North

Hey kids, can you say B-movie? Because that’s what this one is! Big disappointment. Boring. Badly plotted. Blearily devoid of charm. Bland. Bargain-bin. I’m not even sure how this one made it to the theatres considering how low-budget it feels.

Norm of the North feels shoddily and hastily put together with a barely-there eco-friendly message and not much else. Norm is a polar bear, and he dances images1OQMF438and also speaks human. That’s it. That’s the whole she-bang. Sorry I ruined it for you, but you’ve seen it before, and you’ve definitely seen it done better. The bar is set so low that any random episode of Paw Patrol will be more entertaining for your kids and less annoying for you. Yeah, I said it.

And the voice cast? The thing that’s easiest to hit out of the park? Norm of the North gets an F. Talk about B-list (or C-list)  (or D-list, let’s be honest) celebrities: Rob Schneider and Heather Graham. I mean – seriously? Did they norm-of-the-northrecord all of the voices on Oscar night or something? Like, which “celebrity” is not only not invited to the Academy Awards, but not to any of the post-Oscar parties either, and doesn’t even have friends or cable TV to be watching them from home, and doesn’t have a job to go to Monday morning that they’re getting to bed early for? And so they called Balki from Perfect Strangers and he was busy. And they called Tori Spelling and she said no. Screech from Saved By The Bell thought the script was lame. Carrot Top thought it might compromise his artistic integrity. And on and on through a rolodex of reality-TV “personalities” until they finally scraped the bottom of the barrel, and guess who was there, desperate for a pay cheque?

(Apologies to Bill Nighy who somehow got tangled up in this mess, and to Gabriel Iglesias who did punch things up a bit.)

yayomg-norm-of-the-north-quiz-5I was unprepared for how bland and pointless Norm of the North would be. How can you release this alongside Pixar fare and think you deserve to be there? It’s like hanging one of my kindergarten macaroni Christmas ornaments at the Louvre and not being embarrassed. The only thing I can console myself with is that it did set a record for worst opening for an animated feature and so maybe, just maybe, Lionsgate learned a lesson in humility.