Tag Archives: Donald Sutherland

Ad Astra

Space is a lonely place. Cold, dark, and endless, it is described as the final frontier for good reason. Still, for as long as mankind has understood that the stars are bright balls of gas billions and billions of miles away, we have dreamed of exploring the darkness, and solving the many mysteries that must be there, waiting to be found.

MV5BYmFmMDA1ZTUtMmNlOS00ODc3LTkxYWEtMTA0OWM4MDQxMjEzXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjg2NjQwMDQ@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1500,1000_AL_Roy McBride (Brad Pitt) has dedicated his life to space exploration. For better or worse, Roy has also spent his life living in his father’s shadow.  Roy’s dad, H. Clifford McBride (Tommy Lee Jones), was a legendary astronaut best known for disappearing somewhere near Neptune while searching for extraterrestrial life.  Roy never really knew his dad, so when he learns his father may not be as dead as was previously assumed, he’s not exactly jumping for joy.  Though to be fair, Roy has clearly never jumped for joy in his life. He’s detached, completely closed off from everyone around him, dedicated only to the missions he’s given, and his next mission is to try to make contact with his long-absent dad, who is now believed to pose a threat to all life on Earth.

The audience gets to accompany Roy on his journey, but of course we provide no company to him. Roy is alone, and while he mostly seems not to mind (indeed, he is really more comfortable in the solitude), Ad Astra weighed heavily on me. The mystery of space has fascinated me for as long as I can remember, and accordingly I have dragged Jay to more sci-fi films than can be counted. Of those countless films, Ad Astra is the first to ask me to examine my curiosity and ask what, exactly am I looking for? What is it about space that draws our dreams away from our home and into the endless void?

There are no easy answers in Ad Astra, and plenty of time to think about the many big questions raised by writers James Gray (who also directed) and Ethan Gross. Space is very quiet, and Roy’s journey is a satisfingly slow one. The journey feels even all the more important because of the slow pace. It becomes more an emotional, and even spiritual, journey than a spatial one, and an exploration of what really matters to us, both individually and as a species.  And it’s a wonderful trip.

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The Leisure Seeker

This movie is about a couple of charming runaways on the lam. They haven’t committed any crimes but they’re keen to evade the responsibilities that weigh on them at home. We’ve seen lots of movies about people on the open road, but we’ve rarely seen a man beleaguered by Alzheimer’s helming a large winnebago while his cancer-stricken wife navigates and their adult children are panicking at home.

Ella (Helen Mirren) should be in the hospital receiving treatment, but instead she’s choosing this one last hurrah before Alzheimer’s has her husband John (Donald Sutherland) completely within its clutches. The Leisure Seeker is the name of their the-leisure-seekerbeloved RV, and this road trip is designed to trigger memories of happier times – their young family at play, their former selves in love. It’s obvious that the ‘in love’ part has never really faded for Ella and John, and maybe this is why it’s so hard for her to cope when he can’t remember who she is.

The pair hit the interstate armed with pecan logs, slides of old photos, and yes, a gun. This film is a moving eulogy to all the things that are slipping away – not just for John and Ella personally, but also perhaps on a more national scale (like a sense of community for one – though attempts to be any more political feel out of place). But as John’s moments of lucidity grow shorter and Ella’s anguish grows deeper. The Leisure Seeker is pointed toward Florida but we can’t deny what they’re truly headed for.

Mirren and Sutherland make the movie of course – the camera rarely strays from this couple so strongly bonded they can’t even bear to sleep in separate beds. Sutherland spins the dial on the many shades of dementia, his face quietly registering all of them. Mirren wears a cheerful mask but Ella’s pain and smouldering anger never disappear completely. This Brit and her Canadian costar make watching this American road trip movie worth while – even if their Italian director doesn’t quite get it right. The acting, however, is everything, and the casting is spot-on even if Mirren is inconsistent with her southern accent. Just as we’re meeting them, they’re getting ready to say their goodbyes. This is a bittersweet journey, and you’re welcome to tag along. You can leave your gun at home, but do pack some tissues.

One Proud Canadian at the Whistler Film Festival

If you’ve glanced at our chaotic Comments section on Jay’s Golden Globes post, you may have noticed that I am a big supporter of Todd Haynes’ Carol, which had its Canadian premiere at the opening gala of this year’s Whistler Film Festival. It was the best by far of the films I saw at the festival but- my love for this Hollywood indie aside- I am as proud as I am surprised to announced that the Canadian films I saw outshone every other American entry. Here are my thoughts on the three most pleasant surprises from my side of the border.

I don’t know why why I was so surprised that How to Plan an Orgy in a Small Town was exactlyMV5BMTUzMjU2NzA4Ml5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNzM0MTg5NjE@__V1_SX214_AL_ what it sounds like. Maybe knowing that it was Canadian, I was expecting it to be more polite and restrained. But, no, the second sex comedy from director Jeremy Lalonde does not skimp on the orgy. Having been labelled the town slut as a teenager, sex columnist and closet virgin Cassie returns to her conservative small town for her mother’s funeral. No one is particularly happy to see her until several townspeople- each one having reasons of their own- decide they need to have an orgy and beg her to facilitate it for them. Lalonde, on hand to introduce the film and to answer audience questions, packs Cassie’s living room with likable characters you’d never experience to show up to an orgy. The implausibility of the situation- especially that they’d keep coming back after every increasingly hilarious false start, is part of the fun. The jokes are mostly lowbrow (a montage of cum faces being one highlight) but rarely cross the line into juvenility.

In The Steps, Marla (Emmanuelle Chriqui) and Jeff (Jason Ritter) are brother and sister living inthe steps New York who are called to their estranged father’s (James Brolin) cottage in Ontario to meet his new Canadian wife Sherry (Christine Lahti) and her three kids. Truthfully, things haven’t been going great for Jeff lately. He’s lost his fancy New York job and his fancy New York girlfriend and he watches a little too much porn. But that doesn’t stop him from judging the shit out of his new step family; Sherry loves lame icebreaker games, David (Benjamin Arthur) owns the third largest paintball course in the province and loves hair metal and Nicolas Cage movies, Keith (Steve McCarthy) is a depressed former indie rock musician, and Sam (Vinay Virmany) keeps sneaking away to smoke pot. Obviously, this isn’t going to be one big happy family right away but (spoiler alert) they’ll be backing each other up in bar fights in no time. Obviously, it’s hard to watch this movie without knowing where it’s going and each character seems plucked from the Handbook for Movies About Dysfunctional Families. But the casting, both in how they inhabit their own characters as well as how they interact with the others, is bang on. It got big laughs from a small 9 am crowd at Whistler and was well worth getting up so early for.

The Steps was a perfect example of how a familiar story, when told well, can feel new. This is just as true of Forsaken, which had its Western Canada premiere at the festival. Kiefer Sutherland (who stood like 20 feet from me when introducing the film) plays gunslinger John forsakenHenry Clayton who returns home to his Reverend father (Donald Sutherland, sharing the screen with his son for the first time). As a pacifist, Rev. Clayton is none too happy to see his boy and is skeptical that he is sincere in his vow to hang up his guns for good. John Henry’s abstinence from the way of the gun is tested when some bullies ride into town forcing people off their land and threaten his long-lost love (Demi Moore).

They don’t make westerns like this anymore. Forsaken is neither revisionist nor homage. Instead, it follows the tradition of the great westerns of the 50s that understood the excitement of watching a hero getting his revenge just as well as they did the importance of making us wait for it. John Henry takes a lot of abuse and witnesses a lot of injustice before finally unleashing hell. We’ve seen this character before and know how it’s all going to turn out but it’s fun to see it all play out, especially with first-time feature director Jon Cassar taking his time with telling the story. If there’s one thing Kiefer knows , it’s how to play a killer who just wants to retire but keeps getting pulled back in and plays John Henry with just the right mix of badass and bashful. Both Sutherlands play their parts well, although the accent Kiefer tries out in some scenes doesn’t suit him, and the two are at their best when onscreen together. Even more effortless, however, are the bad guys played by the great Brian Cox, Sean’s high school buddy Aaron Poole, and the amazing but underrated Michael Wincott. It’s a blast watching these three be despicable and even more fun knowing that, by the end, their uppance will come.

Healing Fest 2015

Matt and I decided to curate a little film festival for our coworkers. Our theme was Healing, and so we have put forth the following selections:

Good Will Hunting: Hey, remember Minnie Driver?

Ordinary People: See Donald Sutherland before he was old!

50/50:  Seth Rogen will teach you how to use cancer to your advantage when picking up girls in 50/50

Postcards From The Edge: Now with 20% more old lady thigh!

The Lookout: See Chris Pratt before he was famous and when he was played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

As Good As It Gets: Carol the waitress, meet Simon the fag.

Reign Over Me: 9/11 + Adam Sandler = do I have your attention?

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly: “A stroke of genius” says Matt.

Life As A House: “A movie more emotionally manipulative than my mother-in-law” says Jay.

 

What’s your pick?