Tag Archives: dakota fanning

TIFF19: Sweetness in the Belly

Though not ironically titled, the fact remains: Sweetness in the Belly is actually quite bland. I suppose there are worse things than blandness, but if you are going to spent several million dollars and the better part of a year to make something, it better be worthwhile.

Perhaps you’re a fan MV5BMWQ4NDEwZDktZTcyMC00M2VmLThlNjEtMzdmZmZiMDc4MTMxXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTQxOTM1NTc@._V1_of the novel by Camilla Gibb, and of course I read it myself about 500 books ago. I have little memory of it, but had the vague impression of not having appreciated it much.

In 1975, in the wake of Haile Selassie being deposed, many Ethiopians flee, fearing for their lives. Many others do not have the opportunity, and pay with theirs. In the chaos of so many people emigrating at once, Lily Abdal (Dakota Fanning) finds herself in London without knowing what happened to her lover, Aziz (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II).

Lily is a special case. Though she is Muslim like the other immigrants fleeing Ethiopia, her skin is white. This means she is plucked from a long line of black women and given special treatment. While hundreds of others share cots in a community centre, Lily gets an apartment to herself, though it’s not long before she invites another woman, Amina (Wunmi Mosaku), to join her. Together they start trying to reunite families amid all the chaos.

It’s hard to dump on a movie with such noble subject matter – but hi, I’m Jay, and I’m an asshole. I watch a lot of movies and I guess I’m fairly critical of them. Sweetness in the Belly is more like a Mild Irritant in Your Eye. I just kept waiting for it to start, and when it didn’t, I started waiting for it to end. Zeresenay Mehari, the director, seems content with banality and the film never gathers any momentum. It’s occasionally moving and competently performed, but you will spend the whole movie waiting for it to get interesting.

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Once Upon A Time In…Hollywood

In The Royal Tenenbaums, Eli Cash, played by Owen Wilson, writes a book and describes it thusly: “Well, everyone knows Custer died at Little Bighorn. What this book presupposes is… maybe he didn’t.” It’s a great line. It kills me. And Owen Wilson passes it off so well.

Quentin Tarantino seems to have had a similar bug up his bum when he wrote Once Upon A Time In…Hollywood.

This review is a little…late, and while, yes, we were happily at the cottage when it came out, we have not been in a hurry to see it since we got home either, and in fact only saw it this past weekend because it was playing in the right time slot. Had Dora been playing at that time, I would have happily-ish seen that instead. The truth is, I’m kind of over Quentin Tarantino. I just don’t feel like racism is the price I want to pay to see his films. $12? Fine. Gratuitous use of the n-word? No thanks.

And while it’s impossible to say this film is racism-free (it isn’t), it’s not the film’s biggest problem. Sean and I just found it…boring.

Leonardo DiCaprio plays Rick Dalton, a washed up TV star struggling to stay relevant. Dalton is a fictional amalgam of several stars of that era. He was a big star on a western television series a decade ago but now he’s lucky to guest star as the heavy on single, sporadic episodes. He drowns his sorrows in a pitcher of whiskey sours. His one time stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) is now mostly his driver…and sometime handyman. He seems pretty content with his lot, his laid-back surfer dude persona disguising his continued ability to kick some serious ass.

Rick Dalton just happens to be living slightly beyond his means next to Roman Polanski in the Benedict Canyon neighbourhood of Los Angeles. Polanski is off filming a movie, leaving behind his 8 months pregnant wife Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie), and several houseguests…including the man who continued to love her despite her recent marriage to someone else, Jay Sebring (Emile Hirsch).

Sharon Tate bops around town while Quentin Tarantino fixates on her legs…and eventually, her dirty feet. Margot Robbie is the picture of youth and health and vitality and promise. But other than as a symbol, she has little to do in the movie. She was few lines and little screen time. Once Upon A Time In…Hollywood is only tangentially about the Manson Family murders. It’s mostly Tarantino’s love letter to old Hollywood, and in that respect, it’s a good one. There’s lots of period cars and neon lights and references to old-timey movies and actors (Damian Lewis appears as Steve McQueen). But the movie acts mostly as a vehicle for DiCaprio and Pitt, indulging in lengthy scenes that are great testaments to their acting abilities…but don’t really serve a greater story. One flashback scene is so long and absorbing, Sean literally forgot it was a flashback scene, and then the story just spits us back out where we belong – it’s interesting, sure, but it corroborates a single, throw-away detail, which makes it totally irrelevant. This film is 161 minutes long…it didn’t exactly need any padding. I would normally suggest the story needed some good editing, but I think the real problem is that Tarantino isn’t sure exactly where the story is. He’s got a series of good ideas but no cohesive narrative into which he can plug them.

DiCaprio and Pitt are acting their little tushies off though. Pitt in particular. He steals every scene he’s in. When he, a 55 year old man, takes off his shirt, revealing an extremely fit physique, it earns whistles and applause in nearly every theatre it screens in. Arguably, old man abs are not exactly acting…but he backs them up charm and dynamism.

This puzzle had many attractive pieces. But some puzzles, when you finish them, you spackle them with glue to frame and hang on your wall. Others you merely break apart and put back into the box…where it will collect dust until you sell it in a yard sale, usually at least one piece short. Once Upon A Time In…Hollwood is the second kind of puzzle. It’s fine. It’s just not great.

Coraline

It’s actually nearly impossible for me to believe I haven’t reviewed this one here yet because it’s such a treasure, one that continues to impress me in new ways every time I watch it. Coraline is 10 years old now and it’s safe to say the world of animation has changed in its wake. With Coraline, Laika showed that animated films could be more than just cartoons for kids. With gorgeous, artful sets, thoughtful stories, and dark themes, Laika has distinguished itself as a cut above, and Coraline has set the bar for so much that has come since. They weren’t the first to do this, of course, but they’ve certainly made the biggest impression on American box offices.

I happen to love stop-motion films because it feels like we’re so much closer to the artwork. 24 character puppets were constructed for Coraline, which kept 10 artists busy for four months. The Coraline puppet at one point shows 16 different expressions in a span of 35 seconds. When you stop to think about what that series actually means, the careful minutiae, the attention to detail, the willingness to expend so much work for a few seconds of film, you start to really appreciate the possibilities of stop-motion. Of course, there was no single Coraline puppet, there were 28 made of her alone, in different sizes for different situations. Her face could be detached and replaced as needed. The prototype would be molded by a computer, and then hand-painted by the modeling department. Each jaw replacement was clipped between Coraline’s eyes, resulting in a visible line later digitally removed. There were exactly 207,336 possible face combinations for her character. Just her character! Over 130 sets were built across 52 different stages spanning 183,000 square feet – the largest set ever dedicated to this kind of film.

I like to think about the different people on the set of a movie like this. One person was in charge of making the snow (the recipe calls for both superglue and baking soda, if you’re interested; leaves are made by spraying popcorn pink and cutting it up into little pieces). Someone laid 1,300 square feet of fake fur as a stand-in for grass. Another was hired just to sit and knit the tiny sweaters worn by puppets, using knitting needles as thin as human hair. You have to really LOVE doing this to dedicate your life to knitting in miniature. Students from The Art Institute of Portland had the opportunity to help out – what an amazing induction to a burgeoning industry.

Coraline is an 11 year old girl, recently moved to a new home, and her parents have little time for her. So perhaps she can’t entirely be faulted for falling for a grass-is-greener situation when she finds a secret passageway in the new house and follows it to an alternate universe where her Other Mother is attentive and loving. Of course, all is not as it seems – the Other Mother is trying to keep her there, permanently. It’s dark, but also magical, spell-binding. It absorbs you into this world, which remains in a state of disorienting metamorphosis. The Other World seems inviting at first – utopian, even, to a young girl. But as it unravels, the world looks and feels increasingly hostile; Other Mother herself begins to wear clothing and hairstyles more forbidding and harsh. It reveals itself in a dizzying, undeniable way, the best use of the medium, an unforgettable piece of film.

Please Stand By

Wendy went to live in a group home when her sister got pregnant. Wendy (Dakota Fanning) has never been allowed to meet her baby niece for fear of her (autistic) tantrums, but under Scottie’s (Toni Collette) care, she’s doing much better. They work on routines, sustained eye contact, and interpreting emotion. Wendy lives by the rules she carefully writes down in the notebook around her neck. She has a job at Cinnabon, a pet dog, and a penchant for speed-knitting sweaters for said dog – Pete, a chihuahua. In her spare time, she has written a 400+ page manuscript, a Star Trek episode. She’s a fan of the show and a particular fan of Spock’s, a dude whose half-Vulcan blood means he too has trouble understanding human emotion.

A visit with her sister (Alice Eve) that’s meant to be celebratory turns sour when Audrey MV5BMmQ5MzJlNmItNzg3MC00MTZjLTkwNTUtYzllOTdlZGM4ZjdhXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNzQxNzUzNzQ@._V1_has again not brought baby Ruby, and hints that she may be selling the family home and moving away. A meltdown seems imminent, but Wendy is fixated on her script, and getting it to Paramount Pictures on time for a contest. When she’s mysteriously not in her bed the next morning – well, let’s just say it’s not much of a mystery.

I love Toni Collette and she’s faultless in this, but it’s not her movie. It belongs to Dakota Fanning, who is Dakota Fantastic. Her portrayal may not be 100% authentic to autism, and could never be representative of everyone’s experience, the material is revived by using Star Trek as a tool for talking about her challenges. Dream sequences serve to reinforce this.

The story is slight but the heart is big. I really enjoyed Please Stand By, its attempt to show a different kind of coming-of-age, its commitment to keeping things light and fun but true. In an age where super heroes overcome astronomical, impossible, unbelievable things in at least 3 different acts of each movie, it’s refreshing to see a young woman overcome such humble obstacles and know that they mean so much more.

 

 

Night Moves

Josh and Dena are passionate about their cause: the environment. Tired of small measures, they team with Harmon, a shadier character who can help them pull off an act of eco-terrorism, the bombing of a hydroelectric dam.

Josh (Jesse Eisenberg) and Dena (Dakota Fanning) are idealistic and young. They figure this revolutionary act will prompt people to think about what they’re doing to the environment, which you and I know is almost never how it works. What happens in real life is that we’re angry about the disruption to our lives. In the movie, however, what happens is even messier. The greatest impact they have is on themselves.

MV5BMTY1NDIzODA2MV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwOTE4Mjk0MTE@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,999_AL_Night Moves isn’t so much about the environment as it is a character study between these three individuals trying to make a statement, and then living with the consequences. It’s slow, almost plodding. There’s no flashiness, just a creeping sense of guilt and paranoia.

The thing is, Jesse Eisenberg is a one-note actor and I’m damned tired of that note. He wears this grimace that tells us the world is just painful to him, like how can his pinched little rat face be expected to live in a world with us plebeians? He got lucky once with a role whose neuroticism suited him perfectly. Everything else has been derivative, and while it might have been slightly funny to watch Mark Zuckerberg get chased by zombies, I just don’t buy him as an eco-thug, bless his entitled little heart.

Otherwise I think Kelly Reichardt puts together a uniquely character-drive film that defies classification. It pushes us to challenge what we think of as “natural” and ratchets up the tension with increasing themes of alienation. What Reichardt doesn’t do is decide for us.

The Runaways

The Runaways is a biopic-ish film about the rise and fame of all-girl rock group of the same name. The film’s script is based on Cherie Currie’s memoir, and is produced by Joan Jett. Unsurprisingly, the film mostly focuses on these two women, Currie on the mic and Jett on rhythm guitar. Lots of other ladies came and went – most wanted nothing to do with the movie, and their parts are fictionalized.

Curie (Dakota Fanning) and Jett (Kristen Stewart) were pioneers, therunawaysand came together under the influence of scuzzy manager Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon). Like any respectable rock band of the era, they eventually combusted, but not before releasing four albums in as many years. They never made it huge in North America but had some crazy success in Japan for a while, where their sound and aesthetic were appreciated.

The movie is just okay. The leads are phenomenal, stylish and electric performances from both Stewart and Fanning (and Michael Shannon is stellar, as always). But the “biopic” aspect is less bio,832729701403947af2c28f14dac46933 more pic. It barely scratches the surface. We don’t get to know anyone, and at any rate, Joan Jett’s post-Runaways life and music is where the real meat is. That said, it’s a clichéd ride about sex, drugs, and rock & roll, but it’s one worth watching to see Dakota Fanning get salty and Stewart own the role of rock’s first goddess. But it’s a condensed version featuring some character composites. The only member of the band besides the two front ladies that is touched upon is that of Sandy West, the drummer, but by the end they don’t give a shit about her, forgetting her in the title cards. She’d died before production began. Pesky cancer. The Runaways were revolutionary, a band about self-empowerment, but not all selves are created equally.

TIFF: Brimstone

Something has to bear the banner of “bloodiest thing I saw at TIFF” and I’d wager that Brimstone bears it proudly, has indeed gone to great lengths to earn it.

mv5bndqzm2zhnzctztexns00mdk0ltgwodatzmi3zdbjmme4yzczxkeyxkfqcgdeqxvymju2otaymzq__v1_uy1200_cr8506301200_al_Dakota Fanning plays a mute woman newly married, raising a dead woman’s son and  a daughter of her own. She is unable to speak but the look of dread on her face when she hears the new preacher’s voice tells us all we need to know. That preacher (Guy Pearce) has been stalking her for years, and bathing villages in blood as he attempts to make her his.

Their story unravels backwards – chapter one sets the above scene; chapter two rewinds to her childhood in a religious-pioneer settlement when her mother was the object of his cruel “affections”; chapter three follows her to a saloon where she does what she must in order to escape; chapter four has him caught up to her, and to her kids, as she flees through snowy, barren land.

Guy Pearce is diabolical – the extent of his character’s actual super-naturalness is unclear, or up for debate, but he’s a twisted zealot AT BEST and I’ll let you decide if there’s more to it. Dakota Fanning as Liz is necessarily quiet but full of strength and grit. He comes at her hard with vengeance but she’s a surprisingly formidable opponent.

This is Martin Koolhoven’s first English-language movie and he’s determined to show us what he’s made of. And for the record: blood and guts. He’s made of blood and guts. So am I, I brimstonepearce2suppose, but I’ve never worn my intestines as a scarf. Have you?

The images are powerful, and will burrow under your skin. And there are 148 bloody minutes of them. It’s not all gore though, there’s plenty of foreboding, plenty of tension. The setting does a lot to add to it: isolation is nobody’s friend. The land is unforgiving.

The MPAA warns of brutal bloody violence, strong sexual content including disturbing behavior, graphic nudity, and language. That doesn’t really tell a story though, does it? And it certainly doesn’t account for how thoroughly you’ll scour yourself in the shower after watching it. There’s no label for that. Except maybe “A film by Martin Koolhoven.”