Tag Archives: Domhnall Gleeson

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

Honestly, I never thought this day would come. In 1983 there were rumours in the playground that George Lucas had nine chapters of Star Wars planned, but it seemed made up. None of us would have have predicted that a fourth Star Wars film would be released 16 years later, and none of us could possibly have foreseen that another 12 years after the disappointing prequels wrapped up, the third trilogy would kick off.  It’s been more than 42 years in the making, which is essentially my whole life, but at long last Star Wars’ ninth chapter has finally arrived. 

rosPicking up more or less where The Last Jedi left off, Rise of Skywalker immediately confirms that Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) is back and hasn’t lost one bit of his galaxy-dominating ambition.  With a whole fleet of Star Destroyers at his command and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) at his side, the Emperor’s goal is to destroy the Resistance’s rebels once and for all.  It’s up to Rey (Daisy Ridley), Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), and Finn (John Boyega) to lead the Resistance into battle against the Emperor and finally foil his dark plans, with the help of many old friends along the way.

By any objective measure, Rise of Skywalker is probably the weakest film of the final trilogy.  Clearly spawned from a checklist of items that needed to be addressed, Rise of Skywalker is exactly the sum of its parts.  Fortunately, its parts are very well-crafted and they fit together to close out the Star Wars ennealogy as well as this fanboy could have hoped.  Some of J.J. Abrams’ choices are not entirely satisfying on their own, but combined, they provide some closure, some redemption, and a whole lot of Return of the Jedi flavour.  The choice to borrow so liberally from RotJ, in particular, grants a satisfying symmetry to the whole affair.

An argument can be (and has been) made that Rise of Skywalker plays it too safe.  No doubt that is a conscious choice by Abrams and an understandable reaction to the (unfair) hate The Last Jedi received for trying to take these films to new places.  The choice to emulate the final (and weakest) movie of the original trilogy is one such safe choice, and overall, I agree that Rise of Skywalker plays it safe at every turn.  But isn’t that beside the point?

Rise of Skywalker takes us to where we’ve been and in revisiting these familiar places gives us a final showdown between good and evil where the fate of the galaxy is at stake, where lightsabers and force lightning flash while a small rebel fleet takes on impossible odds, where working together for the right cause offsets a shortage in numbers, and where good always finds a way to win.  That is the only way the Star Wars saga could have ended, and that’s exactly what Rise of Skywalker delivers.

The Kitchen

When a bunch of gangsters get put away for terrorizing Hell’s Kitchen in the 1970s, their wives are left up s creek without a p. Oh sure The Family says it will provide for them, but the measly few bucks isn’t even enough to pay the rent. And we’re talking several years of jail time. So Kathy (Melissa McCarthy), Ruby (Tiffany Haddish), and Claire (Elisabeth Moss) grab their own p and conquer s creek.

Okay, that’s a bit reductive because as you can imagine, absolutely no one was thrilled to have the women take things over – not the people paying them, not their rivals, and especially not the leftover male members of their own mob. And I do apologize for having said ‘male member.’

This is exactly the kind of story you want to get behind 1000% and I can still recall seeing production stills from when they were filming and being extra hardcore jazzed about it. But as you can tell by the timing of this review, I didn’t even bother to see it in theatres. And that’s because try as they might, these 3 exceptional ladies can’t make up for a story that just isn’t there. It’s generic and bland and boring. I expected to see some ass kicking and clever one-up-womanship and salty language. But instead it’s just a bunch of hand-wring and counting money into neat little piles. That feeling of empowerment seems to be missing entirely – and so is the point.

I don’t fault anyone in the cast because they’re all churning out great work, but their characters are underdeveloped and at the end of the day, without character investment, the stakes are very low.

The Kitchen is a disappointment. A disappointing disappointment. I only finished watching it because I’d already paid the rental price, and even then I seriously contemplated a “pause” that we just never came back to.

True Grit

Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) is just 14 years old when her father is murdered by the coward Tom Chaney. It should not fall to her to avenge his murder, but it does, and Mattie proves more than up to the challenge. Though not particularly skilled with guns or wilderness, she and her quick wit are nonetheless game when both are required as the search for Chaney takes her into Indian land. She hires Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges), supposedly a man of true grit, to get the job done; Rooster is none too pleased to find a little girl as his sidekick, but the money’s too good to turn down. Mattie, however, is the one who ends up disappointed when she quickly learns that Rooster is a slothful drunk. Neither is she pleased when Texas Ranger LaBoeuf (Matt Damon) joins the fray – he’s after Chaney (Josh Brolin) for his own ends, but Mattie insists that he will hang for no other crime but her own father’s murder. It’s a fine point, perhaps a moot one, but to Mattie, it’s the whole point.

3688_truegrit1825 was not a great time to be female. LaBoeuf feels entitled to both kiss and spank Mattie, a 14 year old girl mind you, at his will and against hers. Most other men just discount her completely. But this is a story of true grit, and so it must involve a woman. Joel and Ethan Cohen edge the spotlight over to Mattie, where it belongs, which is what makes this film even stronger than the original. Which is not to say that Rooster and LaBoeuf are lost. Indeed they are not. The Cohens can write like the dickens (or, perhaps, like Dickens), and they’ve found a way to sharpen up a very interesting little triangle. Hailee Steinfeld was 13 when she was cast, but she acts alongside of Damon and Bridges like a gun toting, horse riding champ, and it earned her an Oscar nomination (which she lost, of course – True Grit got 10 nominations and 0 wins, which is what the french call “not right.)

True Grit is gritty, but it’s beautifully made. I love the snappy, tongue-twisting, quotable script, I love Roger Deakins’ gorgeous cinematography, I love the actual wild of the wild west, I love the slapdash feel of the gun fights, I love the sound of beans cooking in their can, I love the gleaming buckles on Matt Damon’s hat and the way he talks after losing his tongue. It feels improbable, and maybe even impossible, that you could take a beloved American classic and actually improve upon it, but credit the Cohens – they have, and they’ve made it look effortless.

Peter Rabbit

I’m not a Peter Rabbit purist and I don’t much care that the movie deviates conclusively from Beatrix Potter’s beloved children’s series. I do care, however, that this movie was 90% montage, more the sort of Youtube video my 6 year old nephew might put together than an actual movie made by an actual studio. The soundtrack must be in the neighbourhood of an astounding 37 discs, although who would buy them is a bit of a mystery. Most songs featured are older than the audience will be, lots even born in the previous century. And I realize that Galaxy of the Guardians banks on exactly this formula, and we can sit here and debate just how much the 80s deserve to be revered, but I’m nearly 110% certain that no one will be on the “pro” side of the same debate in honour of Len’s Steal My Sunshine, which cannot be forgotten soon enough and certainly didn’t need a Peter Rabbit remix.

Peter Rabbit and his friends are delightfully rendered in CGI, very sweet and cute looking, with just enough clothing to anthropomorphize but never enough to be very confident something rude’s not going on. But don’t let their looks deceive you: these bunnies are homicidal. They’re ruthless and entitled and they’re pretty shitty MV5BZjg0Mjk0NTUtYWU3NS00ZmVmLTk3ZmUtODEyN2FhMTA4ZmZmXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTc5OTMwOTQ@._V1_neighbours, to be honest. I mean, they have a whole forest they could forage for food, but instead they repeatedly pillage a garden lovingly tended by an old man mourning the death of his beloved wife. And they don’t just want to steal his cucumbers, they want him dead (although where would the garden be without a gardener, huh, bunnies, did you even stop to think of that?). No, the bunnies, who are obviously thoughtless millennials in this incarnation, only think of themselves, and their stealing is somehow justified.

And not to shock you, but they actually do succeed in killing old man McGregor – only to find that his nephew, who inherits the place, is much worse. So they set about murdering him too. Sure, they mistakenly bring a tomato to a dynamite fight once, but the rest of the time they aim to kill. Sean was pretty shocked when they knowingly choke the guy with food he’s known to be deathly allergic to. Too far, he thought, and yet this was only one small battle in a very long war savagely fought. These are no innocent rabbits. Of course, sweet Bea next door is appalled that anyone should deny her fluffy-tailed friends all the produce they can eat and waste, but not so appalled, I noticed, that she would bother to plant a garden herself. But of course, the rabbits aren’t stealing out of hunger, they’re doing it out of spite, and though it’s played incessantly for laughs, I just don’t know why we need these kinds of stakes in a kids’ movie.

To me, the children’s books were warm and gentle and sweet and the movie seems to strive to be the complete opposite: rude and obnoxious and totally devoid of charm.

American Made

Barry Seal is a bit of a dick; he’s the kind of pilot who will inflict fake turbulence on a whole plane full of people just to wake up his snoozing co-pilot. So it’s rather a good thing that he gets out of the piloting business and into, well, okay, the piloting business, but this time for the CIA, where he’s a lot less likely to toss the cookies of poor little Jay Asshole as he tumbles me across the skies.

Barry is taking aerial reconnaissance pictures of whatever his CIA contact tells him to. The pay is peanuts but it’s exciting work, and Barry is exactly the kind of guy who would get off on it – in fact, he can’t help making videos of himself “confessing” to all of his secret CIA missions, boasting to an unseen, future audience, even though it’s the 1980s and the selfie wasn’t even technically invented yet.

If you’re picturing this guy as cocky, then you’ll understand why Tom Cruise is the perfect guy to play him. Of course, when the missions go from photographing Escobar to running drugs for him, both the money and the thrills (which the rest of us would call “risk” or even “danger” and quite possible “a really bad idea”) increase american-made.pngexponentially. In real life, Barry was, erm, a bit of a heavy set guy; the cartels referred to him as El Gordo, as in, the fat one. In the movie, the only fat thing about him is his wallet. And forget wallets – this guy had nearly every single person in a small town working for him, driving fancy-ass (and super conspicuous cars), his wife draped in jewels like she wandered off the set of a rap video. The town even built him  his own bank vault. Barry was a lot of things, but he wasn’t real great at hiding money.

The movie turns out to be an interesting mix of recklessness and cynicism. There’s a lot of energy and action pumping in all directions but not a lot to insight as to the corruption and compromise. Fun but forgettable.

 

Goodbye Christopher Robin

I wonder in what ways the world would have been different if Alan Milne had not married a perfectly horrid wife. Daphne is an excellent socialite but not terribly prone to marital bliss. She waited for her husband to come back from war and is not impressed with the man who comes back. Her advice to just “not think” about the war is not exactly practical, and then she has a son she doesn’t want or know how to love to cheer him up, and that doesn’t work either!

But of course it’s their son, C.R., aka Christopher Robin, aka Billy, whose stuffed animals and wild imagination inspire the very thing he’ll become known for. And it’s his wife’s abandonment of the family that allows father and son to spend meaningful time together, time enough to write the stories that will enchant the world and change their family forever.

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Domhnall Gleeson plays the famous author A.A. Milne, a man ravaged by war, confused by his wife, haunted by the characters he created. Winnie the Pooh is a beloved story for children, but the people behind it are much darker than I’d imagined. This is not really a happy story. Margot Robbie plays his flitty wife, a woman easy to scorn but Robbie humanizes her, has compassion for her. Kelly Macdonald plays the woman who actually cares for young C.R., a nanny her charge calls Nou but the world will know as Alice, from the books. She’s the one who bears the burden placed upon a little boy upon whom the whole world has expectations. The cast is quite wonderful; even the little kiddo (Will Tilston) playing Christopher Robin is good, as he must be.

But as you can imagine, it’s difficult to flick back and forth between the horrors of war and the child-like wonder that inspired a favourite picture book. It adds little pops of whimsy to lighten the mood, but make no mistake: it is a dark mood in need of lightening. At times the movie really hits the right note, but it’s a tone that’s hard to keep – especially since the point is not really Winnie the Pooh OR war, but the nasty consequences of celebrity. Goodbye Christopher Robin surprised me and moved me, but it’s not a water-coloured, feel-good picture, just the sad truth behind a story you thought you knew all too well.

A Futile and Stupid Gesture

A Futile and Stupid Gesture is a Netflix original film that takes some chances. Netflix knows it has some leeway for experimenting in film, and this one was a particularly obvious choice for a little outside-the-boxing. It’s a biopic of sorts for Doug Kenney, the founder of National Lampoon. He was a funny guy who coloured outside the lines and this movie is a fitting tribute to him; it keeps you guessing.

Told in retrospect and narrated by an older, wiser, omniscient Doug Kenney (played by Martin Mull) who watches the events of his life unfold with a little disdain and a huge grain of salt. This device allows for a fair amount of editorializing and joke making at his own expense.

Will Forte plays Kenney, ages 18-33, and despite the fact that he’s 46 in real life, he’s a A-Futile-and-Stupid-Gesture-trailer-700x300great choice. He can pull off the sadness and the savage humour, playing it straight, breaking the fourth wall, talking directly to us, talking to himself. Doug Kenney was the Harvard editor of the Lampoon, and he had such an epically good time just fucking around with his good buddy Henry (Domhnall Gleeson) he decided to just keep it going and took their little humour magazine national. And as if the phenomenal success of the National Lampoon wasn’t enough, they expanded into radio shows, during which they enlisted the talents of Chevy Chase, Harold Ramis, Christopher Guest, and Gilda Radner. And then they started writing movies like Animal House and Caddyshack.  And while some might feel content with having their dreams come true and writing the most successful comedy movie EVER, Kenney never can be. He tries to fill the hole in his heart by shooting stuff up his nose. It’s a circuitous route that doesn’t work very well, but not for lack of trying.

Director David Wain assembles an incredible ensemble to help him out, and by incredible I mean, lots of recognizable faces, but not necessarily well-suited for the parts. Joel McHale gets to play Chevy Chase, and even though the two were on a TV show together for many years, it’s like McHale doesn’t realize he’s a real person with tonnes of footage on which he could base his performance. Instead he does Joel McHale in a bad wig and unless someone is loudly calling him Chevy, I forget which one he’s supposed to be.

I admire this movie more than I like it. I think it’s okay, and at times quite funny, and probably worth a watch if you don’t mind weird stuff. But the thing is, the writers and director are a complete mismatch. The writing is unconventional and wacky and striving for something extra but the director is a little more conservative and a little less inspired so the whole thing just sort of clashes awkwardly. Forte and Gleeson are kind of wonderful though – maybe a little futile, but definitely not stupid.