Tag Archives: Dustin Hoffman

The Tale of Despereaux

In which Sigourney Weaver proclaims herself anti-ratist, and is wrong about rat facts. You might think a mouse named Despereaux is the hero of this film but Sigourney the narrator first introduces us to Roscuro the rat (Dustin Hoffman) who is quite pleased walk fresh off the boat into a village that’s in the middle of worshiping soup, as they do annually. The royal soup smells amazing and Roscuro cannot wait to partake, but his eagerness unfortunately plops him right into the royal cauldron, and when the queen finds them there, she dies on the spot. The king, in his grief, outlaws soup. And rats. The kingdom goes gray. You might not have guessed that soup could have such a vital influence on a town’s happiness and success but there you have it. Roscuro flees into the sewers.

Which is where he eventually meets Despereaux (Matthew Broderick), a mouse unlike any other. Despereaux is bold and curious but he can’t or won’t follow the strict rules of Mouseworld where learned fear is the most important thing.

Fun Fact: Sean and I are pretty into soup. Which is admittedly a weird thing to be into. We love to cook together – I am an excellent cook and Sean is a decent helper (as long as he does grunt work like cleanup and grating cheese – he’ll chop veggies too but it takes him at least 20 minutes to fell a bell pepper). I’m on the front lines, being impressive, he’s in the background, looking for a stubborn cap to unscrew. One of our favourite things to make together is roasted red pepper soup, a recipe we’ve come to think of as our signature dish. We made it in our first apartment, accidentally splashing the walls red and murdery when the blender’s top wasn’t properly secured. We repeated the process out at the cottage one winter’s eve (minus the murder scene), with a fire roaring and big fat flakes of snow coming down outside. We loved making it so much that when we got married we insisted the chef replicate it for our wedding menu.

Fun Fact #2: Sean is also not anti-rat. He grew up with not one but two rats as pets. Pets! They let them in their house ON PURPOSE. And named them BamBam and Rocky.

So it would seem that Sean is the prime target for a movie about soup-loving rats. If not him, who? The Tale of Despereaux is like the dark side of Ratatouille (which, incidentally, is one of Sean’s favourite Pixars): what if it turns out people DON’T like rats in the kitchen? Crazy, I know, but hear me out. It’s mixed with shades of Dumbo and a touch of the Gladiator with maybe a wee bit of cursed princess, a smattering of Downton Abbey, and a sprinkle of The Three Musketeers for good measure. Which ultimately means that while the voice cast is excellent and the the film looks great, the story is familiar no matter which way you look.

Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium

Molly Mahoney (Natalie Portman) was a child prodigy, but now that she’s 23, she’s just a woman who hasn’t made a musical mark yet. She’s the manager of Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium, which Mr. Magorium claims to have owned for 114 years. The toy store is frantic with happy children – like FAO Schwartz given the Toy Story treatment. The toys are nearly alive with magic. The store is filled with the strange and the fantastic.

Molly’s right hand man is Eric Applebaum, a kid who struggled to make friends his own age, but shows up the toy store every day in one of the many hats from his impressive collection. One day, Mr. Magorium (Dustin Hoffman) realizes, in his 243rd year, that Magorium3perhaps it is time to get his affairs in order. He hires a very straight-laced accountant named Henry (Jason Bateman) to set things right before he dies. His lifetime supply of shoes is on its last pair, so his death is imminent, if not quite predictable. Unable to decipher the difference between important documents and doodles, Mr. Magorium’s files are intimidating, even to an ultra boring accountant like Henry. And Molly is not keen to inherit if it means the death of her friend.

The toy shop itself seems to be suffering from some affliction; it too is in mourning, sulking over its fate, and the magic is seeping out in a fit of rebellion.  With Mr. Magorium gone, from whence will magic come?

I’ve never understood how this movie isn’t more watched and applauded and beloved. Yes, it tries hard to be wonderful and whimsical. And just where, exactly, is the criticism in that? It’s about a magical toy shop, for the love of dragon scales! Isn’t maximum effort appreciated anymore? My inner child adores this movie. My grown up self adores this movie! It’s the good kind of cutesy, filled with moving pieces and primary colours. But with themes of belief and inspiration, this isn’t just for kids. It’s for anyone with a little sparkle in their hearts, or the space for some.

The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)

The Meyerowitz family is fractured. Danny (Adam Sandler) is a self-described ‘extremely good parker’ with little else on the horizon. A loving dad and devoted house husband, his life is in transition now that he and his wife are separating and his only daughter is off to college. Moving in with his estranged father Harold (Dustin Hoffman) seems like an opportunity to get to know him, except it turns out that feeling’s not mutual.

Harold abandoned Danny and daughter Jean (Elizabeth Marvel) in favour of a new family when they were quite young. He’s never acted as a real father to them and even now he’s mostly only interested in what they can do for him. Not to mention the complicating factor of his alcoholic wife Maureen (Emma Thompson) who MV5BN2M5YzA2ODAtOTNmMi00MGYyLWIxYWYtY2M2NmE4ZGE1ODQ1XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjAwODA4Mw@@._V1_inserts herself into cramped dynamics like she’s determined to put the Wicked back into Step Mother. Both throw out the red carpet when favoured son Matthew (Ben Stiller) makes a reluctant appearance. Harold has fostered a competitive streak between his children by different mothers but they otherwise aren’t close. So when their father’s life and career necessitate them pulling together, it’s a little awkward. Actually, it’s extremely awkward and kind of heart breaking. Because they aren’t bad people, they’ve just been starved of their father’s love and have no idea how to act like a family now that there’s no real chance that things will ever be different.

This being a Noah Baumbach work, the comedy isn’t broad, but it is damn funny. When I finished it (a Netflix original) I immediately wanted to restart it, just to catch all the amazing little asides and offhand jokes that are so casually but expertly tossed out.

Although Harold is a self-absorbed contrarian, he’s not quite despicable in the hands of Dustin Hoffman and his grizzled white beard. Adam Sandler gives a nuanced performance that’ll make you believe in him as an actor once again – and it’s been a good long while since that’s been true. Actually, there are loads of big names, some in pretty small roles, but everyone is kind of spectacular in this. Having recently had no patience for Golden Exits at the New Hampshire Film Festival, I wondered if the our film lexicon was finally full to bursting with movies about privileged white people whining about their lives. But the family dysfunction in The Meyerowitz Stories feels relatable and authentic and the characters are trying too hard to be decent people in the face of it all: I kind of loved it. It’s amazing how many years later childhood resentments and jealousies can bubble to the surface, but this is the kind of movie that makes us all feel “Same” in one way or another, and it just feels good and cathartic that we aren’t alone.

 

 

Kung Fu Panda 3

In X-Men: Apocalypse, Cyclops convinces Nightcrawler to have a regular teenaged afternoon-about-town. They stop in at the mall, cruise downtown, and go to the movies, where they happen to catch Return of the Jedi and note that the third one in any trilogy is “always the worst.” Ahem.

Kung Fu Panda is Kung Fu-cked up. Well, maybe it’s not terrible, but it IS boring and useless. The animation is kind of beautiful at times, and it takes stabs at being heart-warming, but by the third installment, this franchise just feels washed out, and I was never its biggest fan to begin with. The plot is a barely-there mishmash of eastern and western tropes and while it says the right things, it fails to engage.

You may know from previous films that Po the panda (voiced by Jack Black) is kung-fu-panda-3raised by a restaurateur goose in a village with no other pandas. There is, however, a Kung-Fu master (Dustin Hoffman) and his protégés (Angelina Jolie, David Cross, Seth Rogen, Jackie Chan, Lucy Lui) which soon includes Po, as improbable as it seems. In this movie, Po’s biological father (Bryan Cranston) shows up in the noodle shop looking for his long-lost son and is thrilled to find that his son is now a dragon warrior because that’s just what his village needs to be saved from the evil villain Kai (J.K. Simmons). But Kai is a super villain and only a master of chi can possibly stand a chance. And rather than mastering chi, Po’s fucked off to magical Panda village where’s fluffing around with the other pandas, stuffing his gourd and rolling about like a big dumb animal.

Don’t worry, it’s a kids’ movie, so everything goes exactly as it should: learn lessons, make fart jokes, yadda yadda yadda. Nobody gets beheaded. Nobody’s femur snaps like a twig. Nobody’s silky soft fur gets worn by a callous victor like a cape. It’s all very, well, PG. Nothing unexpected happens. The plot feels very derivative of the first film’s, and come to think of it, the second’s. No kung-fu-panda-3_640x480_71452230774matter how much kung-fu we learn there’s always another threat to vanquish – both the physical ones, and the ones inside our head (cue soft pan-pipe music). God I hate cartoons with morals.

This one just felt strained to me. Strained like trying to take a giant panda poop on a steady diet of white rice and cheese. Strained like the look on your adopted father’s face when your “real” dad shows up for #3. Strained like that feeling in your groin when you execute a kung fu thrust kick without first stretching your hammies. Strained like a fourth simile would be. This one’s just not working for me.

The Program

Lance Armstrong: hero or villain?

A liar and a cheat, that’s for sure.

And that’s what this movie is about: one man’s relentless, ruthless pursuit of the only thing that matters to him – winning. And it’s not just that he was willing to cheat to keep up with the others, no, you have to cheat the best to be the best. He didn’t just cheat, he hired a whole team of cheaters in order to boost his performance while cloakitheprogramng his dishonesty. And he flaunted his power and prestige (that he largely earned being “The Face of Cancer through his Livestrong foundation) to intimidate and coerce others into staying silent.

Ben Foster stars as Lance Armstrong, and it’s a good fit. He does the smarmy bravado well, with glimpses of vulnerability that humanize him. Jesse Plemmons (the low-rent Matt Damon) co-stars as his team-mate, and Chris O’Dowd, my Irish boyfriend, as the sports journalist who MTMzMTA1NDUyODAzMjEzMzIythinks he smells a rat.

The script is the problem. It has to race through more than a decade of doping, and it does so pretty frenetically, not really dwelling on much other than his downfall. The story doesn’t seem to know if it’s about Lance Armstrong’s power-hungry cheating or David Walsh’s (the journalist) determined reporting, or about generalized ambition and abuse of power in the sports world.

Lance Armstrong is not a nice guy. He lied, repeatedly, unapologetically. He cheated in pursuit of fame and money and all things deplorable. He also beat cancer and raised a lot of money for its research. But it’s likely the reason he got cancer in the first place was all his doping. But his doping and his subsequent winning led him to rejuvenate his sport, and imagesthe Tour de France, inspiring many. So who is this man? Don’t look to The Program for the answer. It has little in terms of insight – it’s mostly a scrapbook of Lance’s greatest hits and David’s best articles about them, and questioning them.

The only part of this movie I found interesting is when Dustin Hoffman briefly appears as an insurer. U.S. Postal sponsored Armstrong’s team and paid him out bonuses for each win, and an insurance company backed them up. Armstrong won a LOT of Tours de France, and they owed him a LOT of money…except what if he cheated, then he didn’t really win, did he? Armstrong is prepared to throw EVERYONE under the bus to keep his lie alive, but we all know how that ended up. The truth is, there is little in this movie that we don’t already know. And with scattered story-telling and shoddy characterization – well, what’s the point?

 

Journalists in Broadcast/Print

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On Monday, I attended the North American premiere of Spotlight, an entertaining and infuriating film about four reporters at the Boston Globe who investigated the Catholic Church’s cover-up of sexual abuse at the hands of their priests. Seeing the likes of Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Michael Keaton, and Liev Schreiber walk onstage was exciting enough but the good people at TIFF really brought the house down with the surprise appearance of the real Pulitizer Prize-wnning journalists themselves to, of course, a standing ovation and a speech from Ruffalo about “unsung heroes”.

spotlight

Somehow, as usual, Wandering Through the Shevles seems to know what’s going on in my life because this week we’re paying tribute to these “unsung heroes”.

All the President's Men

All the President’s Men (1976)– Pretty much every movie about investigative journalism that I’ve ever loved has been compared to this movie. “In the tradition of All the Presidents Men”, the TIFF website wrote of Spotlight. It’s been years since I’ve seen this story of the two Washington Post reporters who investigated the Watergate scandal but what has stayed with me is the way that it manages to hold our attention and build suspense from behind a desk. Instead of car chases, we get phone calls, research, and checking sources. It doesn’t hurt that the journalists are impeccably played by Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman.

insider_interview

The Insider (1999)– In his best film by far, Michael Mann tells the story of 60 Minutes producer Lowell Bergman’s battle with the brass at CBS to get his interview with a whistleblower against Big Tobacco on the air. Having Al Pacino’s and Russell Crowe’s names above the title wouldn’t be as exciting today but Mann was lucky enough to catch both actors in their prime. Only Crowe managed to earn an Oscar nomination from his performance but the great Christopher Plummer (doing an uncanny Mike Wallace) was somehow overlooked.

zodiac

Zodiac (2007)– This movie scares the shit out of me. The murder scenes are as chilling as they come but David Fincher’s return to the serial killer subgenre isn’t really about the Zodiac killer at all but about a small group of people who became obsessed with finding him and practically had their lives ruined as a restult. Jake Gyllenhaal and Robert Downey Jr. do some top-notch reporting (even though Gyllenhaal is employeed only as an editorial cartoonist). What’s most impressive about Zodiac is the ammount of information they throw at us without it being impossible to follow and how much of the information we already knew without it being boring.

Sibling Relationships (Biologically Related)

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Time again for Thursday Movie Picks. Sibling week hits just two weeks away from when we leave for sunny California where we will see my own brother who I haven’t seen since Christmas. Let’s hope our reunion goes smoother than they did in these three amazing films.

Rain man

Rain Man (1988)- Tom Cruise has some serious daddy issues to work out finally gets his chance when he discovers that he has an autistic brother (Dustin Hoffman). Their road trip may start out as Charlie’s selfish scheme to get his inheritance back but spending time with his brother soon becomes its own reward in one of Hollywood’s all-time great feel-good movies.

The Savages (2007)- Neither Wendy (Laura Linney) or Jon (Philip Seymour Hoffman) are in great shape when their estranged father’s dementia progresses to the point that he needs to be placed in a nursing home. The always-amazing Linney and Hoffman are completely believable as brother and sister both at first when spending time together dealing with this family crisis is completely uncomfortable and finally when they start actually enjoying each other’s company.

Rachel Getting Married

Rachel Getting Married (2008)– Before this movie came out, I never would have thought that I’d like Anne Hathaway in anything. She reinvents herself completely for this though as a tactless drug addict on temporary leave from rehab to attend her sister’s bizarre wedding. I could have easily picked this for father-daughter or mother-daughter relationships but it fits this category better. The sisters have the only relationship in this family that actually may see some healing.