Tag Archives: Colin Farrell

TIFF18: Widows

The world didn’t need any further proof of Viola Davis’ talent or range, but director Steve McQueen is serious about his star, and he painted her the perfect sky in which to shine.

Ronnie (Davis) is devastated by the death of her husband in a robbery gone wrong. But she barely gets him buried before the guys he robbed come calling, and she’s the one on the hook for the 2 million dollars that’s missing. So she rounds up all the widows whose husbands died on that job (Elizabeth Debicki, Michelle Rodriguez) and takes over the family business, such as it is.

But this is not your typical heist movie. Like Scorcese’s The Departed, it’s about more than just the criminal element. While Scorcese looked at dirty cops, McQueen takes on crooked politicians, and he ably blurs the line between felon and city councilman. Tom Mulligan (Robert Duvall) is the departing alderman of District 18, but after a recent heart attack, he’s vacating the spot that his family has held for generations, and his son Jack (Colin Farrell) is planning on stepping into his shoes at the next election. But strangely (to him), he’s not running unopposed. Turns out, he’s not the only willing to be corrupted for cash and kickbacks. The two worlds collide rather impressively when it’s Mulligan’s house the widows break into.

There are a thousand little details that make Widows into a truly great movie, but here are just two:

The opening scene. Liam Neeson and his gang of merry men are pulling a heist, but shit goes down. It’s frantic and violent and spectacular. But it’s intercut with almost its polar opposite: scenes of domesticity. Each man in the gang is shown at home, with his wife, widows-2018-viola-davis-liam-neesonhis kids, his little dog Olivia. Sure they’re criminals but they’re also doting dads, bill payers, lawn mowers, trash taker-outers. So you’ve got this brilliant back and forth of the two, somewhat disparate, halves of their lives. The hard and soft, the why and the how of tough jobs with lots of risk. We don’t spend much time with them, but we already know they are much than just their crimes, and when they meet their end, it’s not without sadness, a loss that is earned. And it’s also a highly effective way of introducing both theme and character. Brilliant, nimble work.

The second scene that really struck me was of Jack Mulligan (Farrell) in the back of a car. We already know his dad (Duvall) is an unapologetic racist. He rants gross inaccuracies about immigrants (even as he seems to employ them as servants in his home) and says the n-word while basically looking us in the eye. He’s not shy about it. He’s old school racist. His son is a little more savvy, but perhaps no less racist. Sure he trots out black woman business owners at his rallies, “success stories” he calls them, dismissively taking credit for their achievements. But as soon as he’s back inside the tinted-window safety of his car, he’s laying down some pretty shitty things to his poor assistant. Interestingly, the car, and thus the man inside, remain impenetrable during the scene. McQueen frames it with the car filling just a small portion of the bottom right-hand side of the screen as it drives the alderman-to-be away from the unsavouriness of his district, to the furthest border where his own palatial home is built and gated. Why would McQueen show Duvall so plainly while uttering his slurs but have Farrell hidden away? What makes Jack different? And what does it mean that the only person we make any contact with the entire time is an occasional glimpse of Jack’s black chauffeur, who Just. Keeps. Driving.

This movie is so well-made it gives me the tingles. I know I started this review singing Viola Davis her praises, but I want to end it that way too. Girl deserves her applause. She is so powerful. She can show vulnerability without making it about a lack of strength. She is commanding and flexible and she brings to this role her own kind of super power – called Strong Black Woman.

 

 

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The Beguiled

During the civil war, a girls’ boarding school full of southern genteel ladies is eking out an existence. Out of the goodness of their hearts, they take in an injured enemy soldier, John (Colin Farrell) and nurse him back to health. They’ve hardly got enough fabric to rip into bandages yet somehow the lot of them, including house mistress Martha (Nicole Kidman), teacher Edwina (Kirsten Dunst), and haughty student Carol (Elle Fanning), flounce around in beautiful, gauzy dresses. Suspicious.

I hated this movie in a pretty major way. Every female in the movie is a bitch, even the film_rec-02cute little ones. And every female throws herself at the soldier in their midst, despite the fact that he’s their sworn enemy and currently AWOL. And of course Johnny boy plays each and every one of them, and they faint into his greedy clutches like they don’t have a brain between them to see through his rather obvious machinations.

The entire plot of this movie relies on the crazed horniness of every single woman and girl. And when lusty John finally makes one his lucky mistress, oh man, we’re all going to wish they had stuck to just heavy petting and weird old-timey flirting.

Of course, this being a Sofia Coppola flick, it looks great. Very atmospheric. I sort of want to take a feminist read of it, and wonder where we’d be if it wasn’t for men fucking things up all the time. That’s worthy of a pause, but hard to dwell there since the movie is so entrenched in its sexual tension. The women give some fantastic performances, but the characters are so exploitative it’s hard to really appreciate any nuance.

The Beguiled is a slow-burning thriller seething with toxic masculinity. The pace is uneven, defaulting to meandering. Long, artful silences can’t mask the mixed message: Colin Farrell might be the sex object, but every female is just a flower waiting, hoping, to be plucked by him. It looks dreamy but feels grim. Coppola might be doing interesting things here but I’ll never know it because I was too enraged and insulted to care.

Total Recall (2012)

It’s been a while since I’ve watched the 1990 version of Total Recall, and yet it was still obvious to me that the 2012 version was the same in plot but different in setting. The setting change was particularly jarring. It is bizarre to me that Mars does not enter into the 2012 movie at all – Australia stands in, which is not really an even trade.  No offense, Australia, but a destination (/colony) I can reach by airplane is not nearly as futuristic-feeling as a colony on another planet. Also, is the fahero_EB20120801REVIEWS120739999ARct they refer to Australia as “the Colony” in Total Recall a little too close to home?

As with all remakes, I waited for the 2012 Total Recall to justify its existence. And like a lot of remakes, it never did. The Total Recall remake is more serious and more down to earth than the original, and both of those are bad things. The original stands above, not just because it did everything first (including the three boobed prostitute) but because it did everything better (including giving a reason why there would be a three boobed prostitute).

The original is campy and dumb and fun. The remake is muted and sterile and dull. The difference between the two is exactly the difference between 80s Arnold (no last name needed) and Colin Farrell (no time period needed since to say he peaked would wrongly imply he was ever much good). No one with any sense would choose Farrell over 80s Arnold as an action hero, and likewise no one should watch 2012 Total Recall when 1990 Total Recall is either in your basement/garage or the basement/garage of a friend, gathering dust with hundreds of other DVDs.

Roman J Israel, Esq

Roman Israel is part of a two-man law firm: he does the research and the writing, while his partner makes the court appearances. But when his partner is suddenly taken out by a heart attack, it becomes clear that the firm isn’t financially solvent, and that Roman (Denzel Washington) is ill-suited to work both sides of his cases. When a large firm comes to swallow him up, headed by George (Colin Farrell), it looks bleak for Roman’s future.

But the interesting thing about Roman is that he uses the law for social justice. He’s been working on a case for years, maybe decades, that he believes could reform the system. topelementHe is well-respected by activists and has collected clients simply by treating people like human beings. George decides to keep him around, thinking it might be good for his firm to do a little pro-bono for once. This is weird timing for Roman, who has just decided that he’s tired of working for ingrates and wouldn’t mind making a little money for once. And that’s the frame of mind he’s in when he makes a terrible, unethical, life-changing decision that could ruin or cost him his life.

There is no doubt that Denzel Washington turns in a stirring performance. Roman Israel is conflicted but he asks a lot of interesting philosophical questions. However, the performance does not make the movie. Everything else is a mess. I never fully understood what the movie was telling us: is Roman autistic? Why is he so bad with people, so out of touch, so obsessive? And it turns out that this was the least confusing part of the movie, because once it branches out from character study to mild intrigue it really spirals out of control. There’s no focus. For a film that seems poised to preach about morality, my biggest concern was whether I could write a review for a movie I walked out on.

Roman is a little too quirky and the script is a lot too unbelievable. Nothing came together for me and I was not entertained or even interested. Pass.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer

I barely know where to start with this one. If you’ve seen any of Yorgos Lanthimos’ work, or better yet, if you heard the mad rantings of anyone who did, then you know he’s a bit crazy bananas. Watching his movies is like taking a bone saw to his cranium, lifting off the top flap, and peering inside at all the nuttiest ideas that the rest of us tamp down in the interest of social order but for some reason, Lanthimos gives them a confident voice. It’s scary but completely enthralling.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer is about a man who will be forced to make a really tough lead_960choice. Steven (Colin Ferrell) is a surgeon with a devoted wife Anna (Nicole Kidman), two talented children, and the devotion of a teenager of an ex-patient (Barry Keoghan). But you know that everything’s about to unravel. Maybe Steven isn’t such a great surgeon. And maybe his family are all a little more self-interested than we thought. And maybe Martin, the teenager, is hiding something sinister.

Colin Ferrell embraces the stylized (read: stilted and simple) dialogue, and at times Keoghan does as well, but the rest are not as committed. Not that I’m complaining. Robot-like delivery can get tiresome. It’s crazy how much Lanthimos can divorce human emotion from our worst, darkest impulses.

But that’s the thing, this is why his movies are fun and exciting to watch: they’re twisted and dark and make us think terrible, terrible things. But they’re really just hypotheticals. Steven never feels like a real person. He’s stiff and icy and even though you can’t wait to see how he plays this thing out, his choice ultimately feels without consequence. He doesn’t feel so we don’t feel. The Killing of a Sacred Deer just doesn’t exist in our world. So while I will always watch these movies for the sheer mental exercise, I can never quite love them.

Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them

Confession time: I’ve never seen a Harry Potter movie, or read a book. Damn you Oscars for throwing this movie a nomination and forcing me to see it. And even though intellectually, I’ve known at various times that this was part of the HP universe, I’ve often confused it with with Doctor Strange, and with so many parallels between the two, it could fit just as easily in Marvel’s.

That dirty secret out of the way, spoiler alert: they’re in Eddie Redmayne’s suitcase. He plays writer and wizard-biologist of sorts, who finds himself in New York City with a suitcase full of trouble. NYC in the 1920s has a more closeted approach to wizardry than fantastic-beasts-redmayne-waterston.jpgwe’re used to, and the Magical Congress of the United States of America (MACUSA) is riding the barrier between magical and non-magical as well as they can. Scamander, however, believes that the beasts in his case are harmless and deserve a chance to be safe and free. This attitude puts him at odds with the MACUSA in general, and Graves (Colin Farrell) in particular. Luckily, a young woman a little lower on the chain, Tina (Katherine Waterson), takes him in, and a non-maj (non-magical person, or muggle) who’s been caught up in the whole thing as well (Jacob, Dan Fogler).

The magical community is on edge because of terrorism committed by the dark wizard Grindelwald. The non-magical community is getting riled up by fundamentalist “Second Salemers”, an anti-magic group to which Mary Lou (Samantha Morton) belongs, and spreads hatred for along with her adopted children (Ezra Miller among them).

As you can see, JK Rowling is drawing an awful lot of nifty parallels between our present maxresdefaultday world and theirs. There’s a whole subplot involving the evil things that happen when someone tries to suppress who they truly are.

Eddie Redmayne was the first and only choice for Scamander, which means you get to see an Oscar winner try to seduce a rhinoceros. Whatever you’re imagining, it’s worse. The movie is stand-alone (well, there are 4 sequels planned, but that’s another story) but still works best for those familiar with the Potter world of wizarding. Scamander was already technically a part of it, having written the text book that Harry will read some 70 years later at Hogwarts (of which Scamander is himself an alum). Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is a lavish buffet, a visual feast, and it must be a delight for an HP fan to see so much more of the imagined universe come to life. For me, a novice, it was just all right, a serviceable story limited by its many plot lines that failed to cast a spell on me.

 

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.