Tag Archives: Christopher Plummer

SXSW: Boundaries

Laura is making her therapist proud by making and enforcing some strong, much-needed boundaries with her father. She’s also lying to her therapist about plenty of things, including the actual number of rescue animals currently residing in her home, and in her purse on the floor of the therapist’s office. But Laura’s father Jack is very good at testing boundaries, and right now, he’s a man in need. His retirement residence is kicking him out, and if Laura is unprepared to house him in the home she shares with her teenage son Henry, the least she can do is drive him cross-country to her sister’s home in L.A.. Right?

MV5BMTY5NzMzNTcwM15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNDg0MTc3NDM@._V1_Laura (Vera Farmiga) loves her son, and her pets, and against all odds, her father. Her son is a sensitive, gym-hating, naked-picture-drawing type (Lewis MacDougall) who’s just been permanently expelled from school. Her rescued pets are a rag-tag, flea-ridden circus of mange, as pathetic as they are cute. Her dad (Christopher Plummer) is a drug dealer and a rapscallion through and through, and terminally charming.

The cast works together as a dysfunctional unit. Director Shana Feste puts together a trio that doesn’t seem like a natural fit but somehow it works – perhaps because they’re all sort of loners in their way, much like the abandoned animals they pick up along the way, and they find a reluctant companionship that turns into some genuine, heartening chemistry onscreen. Toss in a dash of Bobby Cannavale, a splash of Christopher Lloyd (and Christopher Lloyd’s balls, as Farmiga was quick to recall, and not without a blush), and sprinkling of Peter Fonda…my goodness, it’s a bowl of mixed nuts,  more salty than sweet, but it went down mighty well.

I saw this at SXSW when I’d also just seen You Can Choose Your Family, and made me think: good lord, these directors have daddy issues. But I guess all art comes out of some frustration, some need to prove something to someone. But since father issues are nearly universal, I suppose these films feel at once familiar but also just removed enough that we can laugh at them, enjoy a moment of catharsis because someone else has it just a little tougher than you. Collectively the audience will laugh, and will emit a sigh of relief for having survived this awkward family trip.

 

 

 

Thanks for keeping up with our frantic SXSW coverage. We’re posting so frequently you may have missed Sean’s great review of The Director and The Jedi, or my review of the truly astonishing Blindspotting, or Matt’s review of the documentary From All Corners.

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All The Money in the World

In 1973, masked men kidnapped a teenager off the streets of Rome. He was the favourite American grandson of J. Paul Getty, the richest man in the world. Nobody gets that rich by being nice, and Getty is not. And of all the shitty things he is, miserly is one of them. You don’t get to be a billionaire by spending your money, after all. So when the kidnappers demand $17 million for him, Getty refuses. “Very little in life is worth paying full price for” he says, but he doesn’t plan to negotiate, he plans on just not paying. “It’s an awful lot of money for such a young boy.” But you can imagine how well that goes over with Junior’s mother.

JPG III, 16 at the time of his kidnapping, has a strong-willed mother, Gail, and thank god. But Gail (Michelle Williams) has no money of her own and no access to her allthemoney2former father-in-law’s fortune. Getty (Christopher Plummer) is pretty set in his ways, and to avoid dealing with his mouthy daughter-in-law, he sends his “security guy” Chase (Mark Wahlberg) to do the dealing for him. But will this weird and uneasy alliance be enough to save Junior (Charlie Plummer, no relation)? If you were alive at the time you likely already know the answer.

If you’re alive right now and not willfully burrowing under some very thick boulders, you’ve probably heard that Kevin Spacey was originally tapped to play Getty Senior. Spacey’s creepy past caught up with him just a month before this film was to be released, which left producers scrambling. Ultimately, director Ridley Scott decided to reshoot Getty’s 22 scenes with another actor who had read for the part, Christopher Plummer. They filmed for 10 days and then frantically re-edited, and what results is a role for which Plummer received an Oscar nomination. Mark Wahlberg had costar approval built into his contract, and he refused to approve Plummer unless he got paid an additional $1.5M to come in for the reshoots. This eventually blew up in his face when it was reported that Michelle Williams only received her per diem of $800 per day. Wahlberg ended up donating the $1.5M to the #TimesUp campaign to stem the backlash. It’s fair to say this movie was under a lot of scrutiny before it was ever released, and I admit I wondered if Plummer’s nomination was perhaps just a reward to the film’s production crew for so quickly doing the right thing, but now I just think it unfairly overshadowed what is indeed an Oscar-worthy performance – by Michelle Williams.

All The Money In The World obviously has a lot to say about the soul-suckingness of money, at its centre is an old man with a corroded heart, but Christopher Plummer manages to play him with just a touch of warmth, which is an interesting surprise. There’s a compelling story here with great acting (with the exception of Wahlberg, who isn’t so much bad as just useless, extraneous), but the movie is just a little muddled (and a little fond of unadorned exposition). It flits between genres – family drama, crime, thriller. At its core though it’s really about this epic tug-of-war between a frantic mother and a cold grandfather, the struggle between love and money, and that’s a story that never gets old.

The Man Who Invented Christmas

My bosom is glowing. That’s what we used to call boobies when I was little: bosoms. Pronounced bazooms, of course. My grandmother told us that eating our sandwich crusts would result in big bazooms and I gobbled mine up greedily, and those of my sisters, if they left them.

Is it a digression if I lead with it? Back to my glowing bosom, which is a line I lifted from the movie itself. It’s the story of how Charles Dickens came to write A Christmas Carol. He’d gotten a taste of success with Oliver Twist and was determined to live 58dd47c10c48e-e2i2h1u1qk5henceforth like a gentleman, but his next three attempts were flops – poorly reviewed, scarcely read. He was really under the gun to write his next best-seller and you know what pressure does to a writer: it blocks him. He pitched a vague idea for a Christmas ghost story to publisher and was laughed right out of the office, Christmas being a “minor” holiday and all. He determined to self-publish and gave himself the daunting deadline of just 6 weeks hence – a release just barely in time for Christmas. The only problem aside from funding was that not a word had been written.

The film follows Dickens (Dan Stevens) on his frantic quest to write a wildly popular novel without the merest hint of a concrete idea. He agonizes over the creation of characters and then is haunted by them, literally. Scrooge (Christopher Plummer) mocks his attempts and grumbles when he isn’t given enough lines, or enough good lines. Dicken’s father (Jonathan Pryce) is visiting and provides constant distraction. If you have even a passing knowledge of A Christmas Carol, it’s kind of fascinating to watch its author draw inspiration from his own life and everything around him, turning ordinary things into ideas that have permeated our culture and helped to define how we celebrate our holidays. While director Bharat Nalluri of course takes some dramatic license, the spirit of the thing is largely accurate. 

Dan Stevens is well-cast as Dickens, and it gives me great pains to send any praise his way because I’ve always held a grudge for how he treated Lady Mary when he left Downton Abbey the way he did. But in The Man Who Invented Christmas, he brings Dickens alive, a man for whom his characters were more alive to him than his own loved ones, and though Scrooge et al literally do speak to him (and offer criticism), his genius and vivid imagination are not to be discounted. But if the film merely existed to give us Christopher Plummer as Scrooge, that alone would be enough. About to celebrate his 88th birthday, the man still has performance in his bones. He won his first Oscar at the age of 82 for Beginners, and it is possibly not his last – he’s got 4 movies in various phases of production, including his hasty replacement of Kevin Spacey in Ridley Scott’s All The Money in the World. This movie is a perfect example of why Plummer is still in demand. He turns an invented character into a real, flesh and blood man.

9

Shane Acker made a short, 10 minute film called 9 while he was still a student at UCLA. One wild ride later, it was nominated for Best Animated Short at the Oscars. It didn’t win, but it sure didn’t lose: Acker was offered the opportunity to expand his beloved short into a feature film, and this is it.

Although 9 is an animated film, it may not be appropriate for kids. It’s got a PG-13 rating and it is, frankly, dark. It’s set in a dystopian future in which man and machine have gone 9_movie-hdto war and likely both have lost. Only dust and destruction are left. And these dolls. They’re clearly sewed together with scraps of material and inexpert stitches, made from whatever parts are lying around but somehow injected with pieces of human souls; they’re all that’s left of humanity.

The machines that are still terrorizing them were born of the same scientist who sewed the dolls. They were made with good intentions but an evil chancellor corrupted them. This chancellor has shades of Hitler to him, and there are Nazi references throughout the film.

9 (Elijah Wood), the 9th doll sewn by the scientist, is prepared to die for humanity’s salvation, but he has to convince the 8 others (Christopher Plummer, Jennifer Connelly, and John C. Reilly among them) to join him.

The film definitely has an edge to it, criticizing our blind pursuit of progress. The film’s pitting of the simplest toy against complex machinery is pointed. That said, haven’t we seen this before? Like a million billion times? Perhaps something else could threaten us for a while? Technology is our undoing: we get it. And we’re not going to do a damn thing about it. Acker’s film is beautiful. His post-apocalyptic vision is too tempting to ignore, but I do wish there was a little more meat and a little more originality to go along with it. Maybe this one should have stayed a short.

TIFF 2015: Remember

rememberSo begins Day 4 of my trip to the Toronto International Film Festival. It’s 9:30 in the morning and I’ve already seen 9 films and am worried that TIFF fatigue may be setting in. How much enthusiasm ccan I possibly muster up in four days?

If I didn’t have such high hopes for the latest film from Atom Egoyan (The Sweet Herafter), I probably would have been more tempted to sleep in. Unfortunately, the trailer and write-up on the festival’s website had really caught my attention. I was not disappointed.

Egoyan specifically asked us to write spoiler-free reviews, which I have to admit made me feel pretty special to be getting a direct appeal from such a respected filmmaker so I want to respect his wishes. I can tell you that Christopher Plummer plays Zev, a Holocaust survivor who is now living in a nursing home. With his memory beginning to incline, he has no choice but to follow the mysterious Max (Martin Landau)’s step-by-step instructions to escape from the home and track down and exact vengence on the former Auschwitz guard who murdered both their families over 70 years ago.

Remember works equally well as a thriller as psychological thriller as it does meditation on memory and trauma. There are elements throughout the film that you may have seen before but the creative casting of the 85 year-old Plummer as the lead keeps the story from ever feeling too derivative.

The Forger

The Forger

For those who like a little Kids with Cancer with their heist movies, John Travolta’s latest may be for you.

Travolta plays Raymond Cutter, a skilled art forger who, upon learning that his teenage son is terminally ill, begs his old crime boss to pull some strings to get him released from prison with only months left to go on his sentence. Of course, nothing’s free in these kinds of movies and his boos wants something in return: forge me a Monet and steal me the real one. Not an easy task under the best of times but even harder when you’re trying to bond with your estranged sick son and your estranged Dad at the same time.

I had a short conversation with Khalid from The Blazing Reel last week about Travolta’s many questionable choices but I was amazed when watching The Forger how bad things really have gotten for him. I’m amazed that this wasn’t a straight-to DVD release. As I implied in my opening paragraph, the pairing of the sick kid family drama and caper picture feels awkward and a little crass. Travolta, as well as Christopher Plummer and Tye Sheridan (who play Travolta’s father and son), really seem to be trying but the family drama really doesn’t give them much to work with. Cutter spends most of his bonding time with his son by taking him to see a prostitute and teaching him to forge paintings. The father-son story takes up so much of the film’s running time that little time is left over for the planning and execution of the heist itself, which is pretty much rushed through at the end.

Still, I can’t claim indifference. I found myself wanting things to work out for these three characters. Knowing that Travolta himself has lost a son made it impossible for me to write off the story as completely trite. Unfortunately, there’s just not a single new twist or idea to be found in this movie that tries to be two movies without delivering on either one.

Father-Son Movies

This week’s Thursday Movie Picks theme is father-son relationships. The challenge is to list 3 movies that highlight the theme. I didn’t have to think too hard because this theme seems to be explored exuberantly in so many intriguing ways, so here are 3 off the top of my head:

BEGINNERS-articleLargeBeginners – Matt has a strong and pervasive dislike of Ewan McGregor so I know he’s disapprove of this pick, but I can’t help it. After the death of his wife, an older man (Christopher Plummer) comes out as gay to his son. There is a real relationship here, a shakiness between dad and son that feels genuine. But the honesty seems to breed closeness and the two embark on a new relationship, late in life, one with understanding and humour. The story is told cleverly and shows a bravery we don’t often see on screen. It’s not necessarily about being gay, it’s about a father teaching his son about what is possible when you open your heart.

Catch Me If You Can – Christopher Walken is the shit. I just love the layered performance in this 002CMY_Leonardo_DiCaprio_013movie. Frank Abignale Sr. is obviously a huge influence on Frank Jr. Clearly this is where his charm comes from, but it’s also where he learns his seething resentment for the world. Even when his father makes for a rather pathetic picture, Frank Jr. idolizes him and chooses a life of crime not just to make his father proud, but restore his father to his former glory.

big-fish-2004-77-gBig Fish – This is one of my all-time favourite movies (sorry, Matt – how did Ewan McGregor end up here twice?). The relationship here is complex – a son is called to his estranged father’s deathbed. He wants to be able to say goodbye to him, but isn’t sure if he even knows him. His father has told grandiose tall-tales his entire life, and those stories have gotten in the way of their relationship. The son thinks they are lies that put distance between them, and the father feels they are essential truths meant to serve as legend. They are his legacy. As the stories are retold, the son (Billy Crudup) comes to understand that the exact facts are not the point. His father (Albert Finney) is a story-teller, each story is infused with heart and meaning, and it’s not what they tell so much as how they’re told, and to whom.

What are your favourites?