Tag Archives: Edward Norton

SXSW: Isle of Dogs

Read the title out loud and kind of quick, and it’s hardly distinguishable from “I love dogs” but the conflict in the film actually comes from not loving them enough. A city in Japan has a dog-hating mayor who selfishly spreads lies and rhetoric about the dog flu, and gets and\or manufactures enough support that he succeeds in banishing all dogs to Trash Island.

As most of you know (because my bursting heart can’t shut up about it), I’m lucky enough to share my life and home with four of the sweetest doggies in the world. I Isle of Dogs 1 via Fox Searchlight Headersometimes wonder if I prefer dogs to people, and I certainly do prefer my dogs to most people. I think dogs are so much better than we deserve. They are 100% heart. So it’s hard for me to imagine a bunch of dog owners so willing to sentence their dogs to a terrible, lonely, miserable life and death. Of the thousands (hundreds of thousands?) of dogs sent to live and die on Trash Island, only one is lucky enough to have an owner come looking for him – a 12 year old boy named Atari. When Atari becomes stranded on the island, a scruffy pack of dogs generously decides to help him find his beloved Spots. Duke (Jeff Goldblum), King (Bob Balaban), Rex (Ed Norton), Boss (Bill Murray), and even the reluctant Chief (Bryan Cranston) band together to reunite boy and dog on a journey that you  might just say belongs in a Wes Anderson movie.

And it is a Wes Anderson movie, horray! So of course it’s got some truly absorbing attention to detail, a sweet soundtrack, and a poignancy verging on nostalgia. Like Fantastic Mr. Fox, Isle of Dogs is beautifully rendered in stop-motion animation. Each dog puppet is a thing of beauty, with fur (made of alpaca hair, apparently) so pettable and little noses that you’re sure are moist to the touch. Their expressive eyes bore into you, and as Bob Balaban so eloquently put it during the Q&A following the film, it could have been a silent film and still been just as affecting.

As saturated as they are aesthetically, some may argue that Wes Anderson movies are ultimately style over substance. Isle of Dogs has some pretty obvious themes about mass hysteria and maybe even fake news, but for me the takeaway is simply to love better – dare I say, more like a dog, fully, and with devotion.

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Collateral Beauty

collateral-beauty-trailerWhile searching for Will Smith’s filmography, I was surprised to see the pleasure with which critics are tearing this movie apart. The reason I was looking for Smith’s info was to try to figure out whether Collateral Beauty is his best dramatic performance (and I quickly realized that since I haven’t seen Ali, I’m disqualified from weighing in on that topic). With that lead-in, it probably goes without saying that I again think it’s been too long since the critics were thrown a juicy morsel, they’re searching for anything to bite down on as a result, and Collateral Beauty has been flagged as an easy target.

Collateral Beauty is not a great movie by any means, but it’s very watchable for several reasons. First, Smith reminds us that he can hold his own against anyone, no matter how many Oscar nominations/wins they may have (his co-stars in Collateral Beauty, Edward Norton, Kate Winslet, Helen Mirren and Keira Knightly, have two Oscar wins and countless nominations between them – incidentally, how does Michael Pena not have any yet?). Smith is consistently the most interesting person on screen even though for a significant portion of the movie he doesn’t say a word.

Second, there’s something undeniably watchable as the movie tries to take aim at cliches, even when it does so by using other cliches. Perhaps it’s just that the cliches that bother me the most were the ones under attack. I can’t really say any more without spoiling some of the characters’ arcs, so if you want more of a rant on that point then feel free to request more details in the comments section.

Third, I found out early on that I was wrong about how the movie’s plot would play out in a major way, which almost never happens nowadays due to the sheer number of trailers foisted on me (especially when half of them have no qualms about spoiling the best parts of the movie they’re promoting). On a related note, seeing a movie in Hawaii earlier this week was sobering because I think they showed every trailer currently in rotation. I am sure Canadian theatres will soon follow suit and it’s already too much here! Just let me watch the movie I paid for already.

Since I’ve started complaining (it never takes too long), it seems like a good time to talk about negatives from Collateral Beauty, and there are some significant ones.  The bigggest problem is that Smith’s character’s supposed friends treat him in the worst way imaginable during the worst time of his life, and it seems we are supposed to forgive them for it. The film attempts to make it easier for us to do that but its method requires a major swerve by Smith’s character that came too quickly to feel natural, as well as a twist that seemed too convenient a fix.

That same convenient fix also transformed the tertiary characters’ motivations from awful to divine and again the turn felt too abrupt. While it made thematic sense and actually tied the movie together well, the execution was too rough to be satisfying (and it also gave rise to a new (/old) complaint about the trailer that I can’t discuss without getting into spoilers so again, comment if you’re curious to hear more of a rant on this point).

All in all, Collateral Beauty is worth a watch and is definitely not deserving of the hatred it’s receiving from critics. It’s quite decent and gets bonus points for making me choke up a few times (something that doesn’t happen very often). Sure, it’s cheating a bit by focusing on death and loss, but Collateral Beauty is intended as a tearjerker and wholeheartedly embraces its nature. Is that such a bad thing? I don’t think so.

Collateral Beauty knows what it is and delivers exactly what you’d expect. If you’re in the mood for a sob story then this is your horse. I think riding this teary pony wore Jay out, though, so be prepared if you’re a real cryer like Jay as opposed to a robot who occasionally feels sad (which is the category Jay has put me in and I’ve really got no valid argument against it – beep-boop).

Collateral Beauty gets a score of six teary-eyed robots out of ten.

Sausage Party

This movie is surprisingly well-reviewed for something based on a pun gone wrong, and is poised to usurp Suicide Squad’s tenuous hold on the box office’s top spot.  But it’s probably the summer’s biggest disappointment for me.

It comes as a surprise to absolutely no one that Sausage Party is peppered with f-bombs and exploding with offensive material. The surprise is that I didn’t buy into it. I’m generally a cusser extraordinaire and have a tongue so salty it makes sailors blush and mumble “aw shucks.” But swearing should be unselfconscious whereas Sausage Party just feels so darn deliberate. Like it’s a 19 million dollar excuse to pack in every bad word Seth Rogen knows, and a few he just made up.

sausage party cabageThe basic premise is: what if your food had feelings? Like, every night when the grocery store closes, the food comes alive in almost exactly the same way the toys do in Toy Story. But in Toy Story, the worst thing we do is neglect our old toys. Worst case play with them too roughly. But we flipping eat food! And before we eat it, we torture it: we cut it, mash it, boil it up, set it on fire. At first the food is blissfully unaware of its weird relationship with us, but when they eventually find out it’s supermarket anarchy.

There are mostly two types of jokes in this movie:

  1. Racial stereotypes. Kosher food, halal food, ethnic food. The Canadian beer that apologizes constantly. The bagel and the lavash are sworn enemies. A little homophobia on the side just to keep things fresh.
  2. Graphic sex. As graphic as a juice box can get, anyway. I mean, the whole plot revolves around a bun (Kristen Wiig) and a sausage (Seth Rogen) who can’t wait to couple. There’s a character who is literally a douche (Nick Kroll). Did you ever want to see a sausage penetrate 3 types of bread products at once? I mean, this is the kind of thing that only comes around once, maybe twice in your life. So get it while it’s hot.

The problem with rude comedy is that if it’s all rude all the time, then rude is the new normal and it all becomes dull pretty quick. I prefer my food orgies to be me at an all you can eat buffet in Vegas, with unlimited mimosas, is what I’m saying.

But even critics, who found Suicide Squad so joyless, are on board for this profanity-filled49033034.cached sausage fest. And of course I cracked a few laughs. I absolutely did. But mostly I didn’t enjoy myself much. I feel too guilty to laugh at something so obvious and offensive as a bottle of “fire water” with a Native American accent (provided by white guy Bill Hader). And while that might be the most culturally inappropriate, it’s not the hardest to watch. Not with a used condom sloppily lamenting its fate, or toilet paper experiencing PTSD.

This should have been a movie right up my bum. Er, alley. Right up my alley. But I guess I’m just too much of an old prude to appreciate it. For me it’s a rare miss from Seth Rogen but I guess my tolerance for glutinous cunnilingus just isn’t what it used to be.

Oscars 2015: Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress

In recent years, you can burn out on online Oscar debates before the nominees have even started writing their speeches yet but in 1995 all I had was Siskel and Ebert and Entertainment Tongith. I was 13 years old and hadn’t seen most of the movies but the way they talked about Oscar night, I wouldn’t have missed it for anything. I laughed through Letterman’s monolgue (probably pretending to get some of the jokes), had strong opinions on Pulp Fiction and Shawkshank Redemption without having seen either one, and celebrated when my two favourites (The Lion King and Speed) each took home two statues. Awards season has been like Christmas for me ever since.

Now, I watch all the movies or at least as many as I can. No category is too minor for me and have sat through more shiity movies than I can count just because they were nominated for best Costume Design or Makeup. I don’t always agree with the winners and have found myself yelling at the tv more than once but I’m back every year with a renewed- and delusional- hope that this time justice will be done.

Best Supporting Actor
Robert Duvall- The JudgeWhiplash script

Ethan Hawke- Boyhood

Edward Norton- Birdman

Mark Ruffalo- Foxcatcher

J. K. Simmons- Whiplash

This category has been one of the surest bets of the night for years now. Recent winners include Javier Bardem for No Country for Old Men, Heath Ledger for The Dark Knight, Christoph Waltz for Inglourious Basterds, and Jared Leto for last year’s Dallas Buyers Club. Even before the nominations were announced, no one had a chance against any of these guys and with J. K. Simmons as an undisputed frontrunner, this year is no exception.

He deserves it too. I finally got around to seeing Whiplash a couple of days ago and was on edge almost every time Simmons was on screen. He’s intimidating even when he’s not being overtly mean and scary even when he’s making you laugh. Best of all, he’s unpredictable, which is more than I can say for the Best Supporting Actor race this year.

It’s not that his competition is completely unworthy. I’m not sure anyone in the world is more irritating to me than Ethan Hawke is but even I had to admit that he was likeable and believable as the still maturing father in Boyhood. He’s in most of my favourite scenes in the movie- my personal favourite being his awkward safe sex talk. And of course there’s Edward Norton, one of the better performances in one of the best acted films of the year.

How Mark Ruffalo was even considered for a nomination is a complete mystery to me and I’m still not sure I understand how it happened. Channing Tatum would have made more sense.

Finally, I have nothing bad to say about Robert Duvall. All other things being equal, he’s by far the best actor in this category but there’s only so much that even he could do to elevate the hokey writing and uninspired directing in The Judge.

J. K. Simmons wins. Anyone else would be a huge upset.

Best Supporting Actress

Lately this has been the Academy’s chance to show us how much it celebrates diversity, doing its best to make up for an obvious caucasian bias in the other acting categories. Recent winners include Penelope Cruz for Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Monique for Precious, Octavia Spencer for The Help, and Lupita Nyong’o for 12 Years a Slave.  The list of nominees this year are not nearly as diverse- or as interesting- as it had been in recent years.Patricia Arquette

Patricia Arquette- Boyhood

Laura Dern- Wild

Keira Knightley- The Imitation Game

Emma Stone- Birdman

Meryl Streep- Into the Woods

I think we could have done better.

Dern, for Wild, seemed to come out of nowhere. I’m not sure I heard even a hint of speculation that she’d be nominated. I don’t get it.

Neither Knightley or Stone are able to stand out in their own movies, let alone among the other nominees. Knightley plays an important part in The Imitation Game and we learn a lot about Alan Turing from his relationship with her character but the movie belongs to Benedict Cumberbatch and to give anyone else in it an acting award would be bizarre. As for Stone, I thought she seemed to struggle with the demands of all the dialogue that she had to memorize in Birdman. She mostly rises to the occasion and has some fantastic moments but she’s really not in the same league as Michael Keaton or Edward Norton.

Meryl Streep’s nomination makes sense. She can’t help being amazing in almost everything and has some of the best scenes in Into the Woods. But do we really want to see her up there again acting like she had no idea she was going to win? She’s already been honoured three times for better performances.

This leaves, by process of elimination, Patricia Arquette. I’d have no problem with a win for her and Boyhood was possibly my favourite movie of the year. I still struggle with the idea of calling this the best supporting performance of the year since Richard Linklater went to great lengths to try and make us forget that we were watching a performance. Her work in the film is still impressive and she’s likely to take home the Oscar.

For an asshole’s discussion on the parts available to women in Hollywood, click here.

Birdman

Birdman opens with C-list celebrity Riggan (Michael Keaton), a superhero has-been trying to reclaim glory as a serious Broadway actor, meditating and levitating before rehearsal of his play. Wait – levitating? Yes. It seems that Riggan has picked up some super powers along the way.birdman

But this movie is so subtly engrossing, its rhythm unrelenting, that I actually forgot this little nugget of information until the next bit of surrealism came our way, presented just as slyly as the first. Some remnant of his Birdman alterego remains, and narrates Riggan’s present tense in a voice reminiscent of Christian Bale’s Batman, driving home the satirical meta-performance at work here. Director Iñárritu gets right up in his grill, nursing long but very intimate shots that show unflinchingly every wrinkle, every worry line ever earned by these actors.

Set almost entirely behind the scenes at St James theatre and shot in long, loooooooong takes that keep the film moving briskly, there’s a beauty and a mystique that really locked me in. Finally  Iñárritu has found his element. Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki floats the camera down corridors and ascends smoothly through the scaffolding and the balconies like an unobserved peeping tom. We take our cues from this camera work. We race to find new action, we catch our breath when travelling down darkened hallways. In this way, the movie feels serene yet is in constant motion. The music helps us keep pace and is sometimes so coolly frenzied that musicians forget they aren’t supposed to be seen!

Riggan, meanwhile, is crippled by all the nay-sayers in his life: the junkie daughter (Emma Stone), the anxious lawyer (Zach Galifianakis), the guilt-tripping ex-wife (Amy Ryan) – but none more so than that voice in his head that slowly cannibalizes him by the end of the film. When one of his actors is put out of commission, he’s forced to bring on board stage actor Mike Shiner (Edward Norton) who immediately threatens to outshine him. With his own superhero baggage (Hulk, anyone?), Norton threatens to casually steal the spotlight from Keaton as well with a brilliant send-up to Method acting, and a nod toward his own reputation for being difficult on set, but Keaton reminds us why he left the Batman franchise in the first place – dude is a first rate actor when he plays crazy.

The movie is ambitiously self-aware and asks smart-aleck questions like, why bother making a $20 million dollar movie when you can go viral for free? This may not be ground-breaking material but as long as Keaton is in on the joke, the monster egos and insecurities, the fraud and the acerbic wit, it’s all part of a complex self-examination that’s fascinating to witness.

Matt and I saw this movie nearly a week ago and it’s taken me this long to even begin unpacking my feelings about it, and this after an all-you-can-eat-sushi session in which we debriefed and compared notes. As Matt will tell you, the movie is also  Iñárritu’s excuse to poke back at the critics who have called him out on his self-important, self-conscious work in the past (Babel, Biuitiful) even though this movie actually seems to acknowledge that these criticisms may have been valid.

I really enjoyed this movie. It’s a pleasure to watch, a puzzle to figure out, and a commentary just begging for feedback. Please, give us yours. Assume spoilers in the comments.

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

I walked out of Birdman last night feeling exhilarated, confused, and unqualified to review it.

The film, nominated for seveon Golden Globes including Best Picture- Musical or Comedy and Best Director), follows (literally, through most of it) Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton), a fictional ex-movie star most famous for playing a superhero called Birdman as he tries to re-invent himself as a Broadway star in a play that he wrote, directs, and stars in. The production is shaping up to be a disaster throughout rehearsals as it’s star must not only deal with his own demons but also with his eleventh-hour replacement co-star who threatens to steal the spotlight (Edward Norton), a high-maintenance actress afraid of spoiling her one chance to be in a Broadway show, his high-strung lawyer (Zach Galifanakis), and his resentful daughter who is straight out of rehab.

Whenever possible, director Alejandro Gonzalez Inamitu gives the appearance of one long continuous take as he follows his actors from backstage to Times Square to a nearby bar. Some of this was accomplished through fancy editing tricks but the film’s stars apparently would have to shoot up to 15 pages of dialogue at a time. That and the complex choreography of the walk make what would otherwise be a pretty talky movie feel action-packed. Even those with little interest in cinematography and editing are likely to be impressed. And the cast, with Keaton and Norton being clear stand-outs, seem grateful for the challenge.

I feel shy about reviewing Birdman because it’s more surreal touches involving Thomson’s frequent arguments with the voice of Birdman in his head left me scratching mine. Many scenes are ambiguous and are probably meant to be but sometimes left me feeling like I wasn’t understanding what was going on. But mostly, I feel shy to review it because few seem to be able to escape its brutal honesty as it takes aim at Hollywood, Broadway, critics, bloggers, Twitter, awards season, and self-importance in general. I felt like I was being dared to love this movie- or to hate it- only so it could mock me for it. The script and acting feel refreshingly honest even as it seems to question its own ability to do so. Keaton and Norton contribute to the multi-layeredness, both playing parts that are so close to their real-life public personas.

My review of this is all over the place. Sorry about that. I’m still not sure what to make of this movie. I can tell you that you I doubt you’d regret watching it. And that (I never thought I’d say this) someone should nominate Michael Keaton for an Oscar. Even if the makers of Birdman would laugh at them for it.

The Grand Budapest Hotel

Full disclosure: I am Wes Anderson’s twin sister, and thus, incapable of impartial movie reviews.

Fuller disclosure: That was a bold lie. I’m just an uber-fan, but upon reflection I don’t want to accuse myself of impartiality. Yes, I love his movies fervently, I wish to live in them, but my esteem is earned. Wes Anderson never takes a night off. He earns it every time.

I was going to watch something new, and maybe I was going to like it, but this little delicacy presented itself as an alternative, and therefore it was the only alternative.

budapestWes Anderson introduces us to Gustave H, a legendary and well-perfumed concierge at the famous Grand Budapest Hotel, and Zero Moustafa, the humble lobby boy who becomes his most trusted friend. The story involves the theft (and recovery) of an invaluable painting and the battle over a will and a vast family fortune.

Immediately Anderson’s aesthetic draws you into this world, the colour palette is sumptuous and alive, and it’s like stepping into someone’s well-appointed dream. As always, the details are meticulously executed: the hotel’s shabbiness, the gritty grout, the choice of fonts, the embroidery, the mustaches, both real and drawn-on, the crest worn by Edward Norton and his army men of a little fox head greatly resembling a certain Fantastic Mr. Fox.

The movie is shot with three different aspect rations to help the audience differentiate between the time periods. The adventure is rapid-fire and the dialogue is virtually spat out.  In fact, the rapid gunfire of dialogue is a problem when viewing the movie in a theatre: the laughs are so close together it’s sometimes hard to hear whatever comes next.

The characteres are vividly drawn and always so much fun to get to know – in this case, Ralph Main Quad_AW_[26611] Grand BudapestFiennes plays a character playing a character who makes pretension feel absolutely charming. Tilda Swinton makes a grand dame indeed in her voluminous old age spots, old lady lipstick, and ridiculously piled hair. There are actually so many stars jam-packed into this movie that I’ll never be able to name-check them all. The enjoyable thing is that these cameos rarely (if ever) feel forced, instead it’s intoxicating and energizing.

It’s a caper-y type film and the plot covers a lot more ground than most of Wes Anderson’s films. But the crime is nestled within a sumptuous frame work and the whole film eats like one of Mendl’s delicious little cakes that are turned our so perfectly that Saoirise Ronan, who plays Agatha, said that making those little pastries convincingly was by far the hardest stunt she’s performed in any movie.

I’d like to say that this is possibly Wes Anderson’s best movie to date, but I feel that such an assertion would be a betray of sorts, like choosing my favourite among my dogs (which reminds me – great little Anderson in-joke moment: after killing a dog in nearly every other movie, Anderson finally sticks it to a cat in a manner so abrupt and cruel it can’t help but get a big, suprised laugh). It’s hard to find a movie that’s this entertaining, this varied and layered, and even if you watch it as a George Clooney edition of Where’s Waldo, you can’t go wrong.

 

Stay tuned for more Wes Anderson reviews – I won’t be able to resist.