Tag Archives: Ellen Burstyn

All I Wish

Senna is an aspiring fashion designer who struggles professionally and romantically. What better time to drop in on her and assess her life than once a year on her birthday? Birthdays are a time to reflect, to take stock, to celebrate, and to mourn. We meet Senna (Sharon Stone) on her 46th birthday and follow her into her 50s. She doesn’t believe in marriage but wouldn’t mind finding love. She does believe in career, but hers hasn’t found her yet. Don’t worry about judging her too harshly – that’s what mothers (Ellen Burstyn) are for.

MV5BZDhiODdhOGUtMTMyMC00NGI3LThkY2UtNmI0MWUzZDRlZGFmXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNzQ0MDUyMzg@._V1_SY999_SX1776_AL_On one of these occasions, we (and she) meet Adam (Tony Goldwyn), a straight-laced lawyer with a foot or two in his mouth. They seem like a classic case of opposites attract until one too many birthdays go by without a ring, and Senna’s carefully composed facade cracks, exposing all her inner most birthday wishes – and they aren’t exactly what she’s been espousing this whole time.

Do you make a wish as you blow out your candles? People say that we have to hold our wish dear, keep it secret, or else it won’t come true. Perhaps that’s just a convenient way we have of not exposing ourselves, because, as Senna’s best friend Darla (Liza Lapira) puts it, wishes are an admission that something’s missing, that there’s a hole that needs to be filled.

Senna is a grown-ass white lady with a pretty cushy life, but no, not all of her wishes have come true. If she hasn’t learned that about life by her 46th birthday (*coughSharonStoneis60cough*), then there isn’t much hope for her. Now we’re just going through the motions to see what clever yet subtle way her mother has of lightly insulting her while pretending to lift her up.

Sharon Stone is kind of delightful, in a way that makes you miss her even as you’re watching her in this subpar rom-com, if that’s what this is supposed to be. It would be nice if she was given a vehicle more worthy, but All I Wish (also known as A Little Something For Your Birthday) isn’t it. She does her best to tongue the clunky dialogue and pave over the plot holes with her effervescence, but Sharon Stone alone is not enough frosting to make up for this disappointing piece of cake.

 

 

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Nostalgia

John Ortiz plays Daniel the insurance guy. He knows he’s talking to you on the worst day of your life. He knows you don’t want to talk to him. Whether you’ve been robbed or had a fire or lost a loved one, he’s the guy who helps you determine what you’ve lost, what you still have, and how much it’s all worth. But insurance guys stop at the dollar value. What, really, are those objects worth to you?

Nostalgia explores grief, loss, memory, and our attachment to the things in our lives. The movie hosts several vignettes that help unpack this notion of the valuable item. An old man (Bruce Dern) is dying, and believes his home is filled with nothing but trash. A widow (Ellen Burstyn) suffers a fire and saves only one item, one she prizes only because it was once important to her dead husband, and clashes with her grown son (Nick Offerman) over keeping it. A brother (Jon Hamm) and sister (Catherine Keener) sift through their late father’s possessions ahead of selling his now empty house. Some nostalgia_09people want to keep everything, even if they cannot bear to look at it. Some people want to toss everything, keep only memories. There is no right answer. Toughest of all, the movie also explores the notable difference between losing an elderly father and discovering the hand-written love notes he once sent your mother while traveling on business, and losing your teenage daughter and discovering that without her passwords you have no access to any of the dozens of pictures she took every day of her short life.

This movie takes on some tough subjects and inevitably it’s not always a comfortable watch. It can be challenging, but only because it touches our own raw nerves. It’s also surprisingly beautiful, as if with flaring sunlight director Mark Pellington wants to cleanse us of the heaviness we might otherwise take from one tile of the mosaic to another.

This movie made me think and feel. It’s a meditation more than a narrative, a sense of melancholy meant to wash over you. Sometimes it’s maddeningly vague but it’s also expertly acted (Keener and Burstyn are of course favourites and stand-outs). There are quiet gaps meant to be filled with your own reminiscence. You will surely relate to one ore more of the vignettes.

When we think of fire or flood threatening our homes, we think also of which valuables we’d grab if we had the time. There are two kinds of valuables: we’d grab the ones worth the most money, like the jewelry, and we’d grab the ones worth the most sentiment, like the photos. But later, sifting through the ashes, would you have regrets? Would you miss the pots and pans you’ve used to lovingly feed your family for the past thirty years? Would you miss the wallpaper you painstakingly picked out and pasted up with blood, sweat, and tears? What items are worth saving, and what items are worth leaving to someone else? What are YOUR valuables, the ones you hope to pass on, or the ones that have been left to you?

Trump’s Muslim Ban & the Oscars

This past weekend, Donald Trump signed a deliberately hateful and ignorant document into law, making racism and Islamophobia national policy. Critics derided it as giphy (1).gifUnAmerican, and yet it was America who voted this buffoon into presidency just a few short months ago. In the face of one man’s cowardly discrimination, however, were many more acts of love and fraternity. American citizens stormed airports with signs of welcome and solidarity. Lawyers littered the floors working pro-bono around the clock. And a group of actors at the SAG-ACTRA awards used their acceptance speeches to give voice to millions of people who say: Not my America.

Over the next 90 days, visas will not be issued to nationals from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen. Existing visas will not be honoured. People who boarded planes intending to legally enter the country, even those with green cards, were detained for hours, questioned, and deported.

In the face of this injustice, it seems almost petty to talk about the Oscars, but since this is a movie review site, this is what we will do.

Asghar Farhadi is the Oscar-winning director of A Separation; it made awards history in giphy (3).gif2012 when it was the first Iranian film to win an Oscar. This year he has toured the festivals with The Salesman, and won Best Screenplay at Cannes. Iran submitted it to be considered in the foreign film category at the Academy Awards and it won a nomination. Asghar Farhadi will not be allowed to attend the ceremony because of Trump’s “Muslim ban.” This is who his ban keeps out – not terrorists, but people who come here to work, to study, to visit friends and family.

The star of The Salesman, Taraneh Alidoosti, one of the most acclaimed actresses in her country, will boycott the Oscars in order to protest Trump’s racist ban. “I decided not to go even if I could, because it hurts me deeply to see ordinary people of my country being rejected for what might be their legal right to have access to their children abroad or to their school classes as students,” Ms. Alidoosti told The New York Times in an interview.

In a statement, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences said it was “extremely troubling” that Mr. Farhadi and the cast and crew of “The Salesman,” could be “barred from entering the country because of their religion or country of origin.” I’d say that’s a bit of an understatement.

Meanwhile, Asghar Farhadi had this to say on the subject: “I hereby express my condemnation of the unjust conditions forced upon some of my compatriots and the giphy (5).gifcitizens of the other six countries trying to legally enter the United States of America and hope that the current situation will not give rise to further divide between nations,” Farhadi said. He’s not the only one with this fear on his mind: “Our most important allies in the fight against ISIL are the vast majority of Muslims who reject its apocalyptic ideology of hatred. This executive order sends a signal, intended or not, that America does not want Muslims coming into our country. That is why we fear this executive order may do more to help terrorist recruitment than improve our security” [italics are mine]. It wasn’t Bernie Sanders or Obama who said that, it was a joint statement from two Republican senators, John McCain and Lindsey Graham.

It isn’t just Farhadi who will be affected by this ban come February 26th  (Oscar broadcast).

The filmmakers behind The White Helmets, a film about Syrian volunteer first responders in that country’s bloody civil war, had planned on bringing two representatives of that group to the ceremony, but Trump’s travel ban – which impacts Syria – will prevent that from happening. The White Helmets, mind you, have been nominated for a goddamned Nobel Peace Prize, and yet Trump sees fit to keep these heroes out. Producer Johanna Natasegara said in a statement “These people are the bravest humanitarians on the planet, and the idea that they could not be able to come with us and enjoy that success is just abhorrent.”

giphy-4The Syrian family at the heart of Watani: My Homeland, another short documentary up for an Academy Award, is also unable to attend the Oscars due to the travel ban, even though they are now German citizens. But movies and stories like this, and Fire At Sea, which tell the human story of refugees are even more vital at a time like this. Watani director Marcel Mettelsiefen said “We must reconnect with the common humanity of the refugee experience and we must all remember that the founding story of America is dependent upon people who have fled war, hunger and poverty in search of a better life.”

I think this whole notion that somehow we can just say no more Muslims, just ban a whole religion, goes against everything we stand for and believe in. I mean, religious freedom has been a very important part of our history and where we came from.” These words were not spoken by “overrated” actress Meryl Streep but by Dick Cheney, who was vice president at the time of the 9-11 attacks.

Muslims are our friends, neighbours, and colleagues. They may serve you street food from a food truck or treat you in your local emergency room. They’re also in movies, sometimesgiphy (2).gif entertaining us, sometimes helping to tell urgently important stories. Oscar-nominated (and best supporting actor heir presumptive) Mahershala Ali is Muslim (Moonlight, Hidden Figures). Rogue One’s Riz Ahmed is Muslim. So are Dave Chapelle, Ice Cube,  Mos Def, Amal Clooney, Omar Epps, Janet Jackson, Aziz Ansari, Ellen Burstyn, Muhammad Ali, Shaq, Kareem, and some of my favourite members of the Wu-Tang Clan. Muslims are not terrorists. Muslims are terrorized by terrorists, who use any reason, including religion (including Christianity) to do evil.

giphyTaraneh Alidoosti, an actress known to very few over here in the west, is boycotting the Oscars. Wouldn’t it really mean something if others did as well? If the Oscars had to broadcast hundreds of empty seats, each tagged with the name of a celebrity who didn’t come because the thought of Trump’s America was so unpalatable that it’s better to stay home than to schmooze and be lauded by one’s colleagues? If they stood in solidarity with fellow film makers who are just as deserving but are prohibited from celebrating just because of their religion? Now that’s a story worth telling; let’s continue to take part in it.

 

 

 

 

Wiener Dog

I love dogs. I have 4 dogs and I like them more than I like most people. They’re just more genuine, you know? You always know where you stand with a dog. I have 2 shih-tzus, 1 yorkie, and 1 beautiful little mutt. No wiener dogs, but not because I don’t like them. It’s because Sean thinks it’s cruel to breed a dog to be disabled. And he’s right; the short legs and long back of a Dachshund causes them to suffer from ruptured vertebral discs on top of bowed legs and elbow dislocation. Seeing my dogs joyfully running around outside, I would be heartbroken to have one little dog who just couldn’t join in.

Wiener-Dog is a movie ostensibly about a super cute Dachshund who gets homepage_wiener-dog-2016-2passed from one weird owner to another. The film is more like 4 shorts that only have a dog in common. I didn’t even believe that it was the same wiener dog in all 4 vignettes. The first two are clearly linked, the last 2 not so much. The shorts also become increasingly non-entertaining. I thought the first one was the strongest: a father picks up a puppy for his young son, who has recently survived cancer. The dog sparks many serious conversations between mother (Julie Delpy) and son – motherhood, personality, free will, death. But all of the conversations are straight out of a what-not-to-say handbook, with Delpy literally telling her son that her childhood dog Croissant was raped by a dog with AIDS named Mohammed. The satire is delicious. There’s an explosion of joy on the screen as a boy and his dog play together, but this outburst of happiness is quickly punished, and the dog changes hands.

This is how it is with director Todd Solondz. He doesn’t care about your wiener-dog-film-trailer-stillcomfort, he’s not here to cushion the blow. And he’s sure as hell not here to give you a happy ending, so keep that in mind. Next up for Wiener Dog, she gets adopted by a character from another Todd Solondz movie, Welcome to the Dollhouse. Dawn is all grown up now, and played with Greta Gerwig. She runs into childhood…acquaintance (?) Brandon (Kieran Culkin) in a 7-11, and suddenly Wiener Dog’s on a road trip through some really heavy issues. She also meets disgruntled professor Danny DeVito and bitter old hag Ellen Burstyn. Through it all, Solondz’s camera is unflinching, perversely lingering over the gross and unbearable.

Solondz’s rage is evident in spades, from the meta film school vignette to the open mocking of the audience’s queasiness with a tongue-in-cheek intermission (and a great song – The Ballad of the Wiener-Dog). Solondz is all about finding humour in the darkness, and Wiener-Dog is an innocent bystander to all kinds of human stupidity. The film drips with cynicism. It was too much for Sean. And while I can’t really profess to enjoying it, I deeply appreciated the fuckedupness of it.

Halloween Thursdays: Creepy, Evil Kids

TMP

What can be creepier than evil, sadistic children? Sometimes scary things come in small packages, especially spooky because horrific deeds are creeping up from where we least expect. I find these movies so unnerving that I never watch them. But I have seen these three. Thanks again to Wandering Through the Shelves for hosting this chilling month of Thursday Movie Picks.

Rosemary's Baby

Rosemary’s Baby (1968)– At least here we don’t have to look evil in the face. The Spawn of Satan rests comfortably in the womb of the great Mia Farrow. Rosemary can’t shake the feeling that something’s wrong with her baby and is starting to think that she’s been getting some bad prenatal advice from sweet creepy old lady Ruth Gordon. It takes a sick mind to play on the anxieties of an expectant mother and Roman Polanski is just the guy for the job.

The Exorcist

The Exorcist (1973)– It’s hard to blame a kid for the cruel things they say and the dastardly things they do when you know it’s just the demonic posession talking but Linda Blair and and the make-up crew make Regan a memorable villain. I don’t believe in possession or exorcism so I sleep just fine after watching it but Ellen Burstyn does such a great job as a mom who just wants to know what’s wrong with her daughter that the film holds up even today.

white ribbon

The White Ribbon (2009)– No need for demonic possession when you’re a future Nazi. In a small German village, suspicious “accidents” escalate into brutal assaults and the local children seem to be at the center of it. Like most Michael Haneke films, The White Ribbon is disturbing without technically being a horror movie. I’m not the only Asshole who’s struggled with this one.

The Age of Adaline

We missed this screening while in Paris, and I was okay with missing it, although our proxy did give it a one-word rave review: “fine”.

On our return flight from California, it was the only New Release I hadn’t already seen, so I gave it a go, and came up with much the same conclusion: it’s fine.

Adaline gets into an accident that causes her to stay 29 forever. And then she has the gall to TheAgeofAdaline2complain about it.  So that’s annoying. And she may have the glowing complexion of a 29-year-old, but she tells a story like a 129 year old: it’s long, rambling, often pointless.

Adaline, that is to say Blake Lively, looks gorgeous in every era. But her “problem” has made her selfish and I had a hard time finding anything likeable about her, other than having Ellen Burstyn as a daughter, and wondered why yet another of her “problems” was having all these handsome men fall in love with her. Wow. Poor Adaline. Tough life.

Anyway, you know exactly where this movie is going, and it goes exactly there, eventually, after a lot of plodding along.

I did love that it was set in San Francisco, since I had just been holidaying there myself, and recognized her digs in Chinatown. Actually, San Francisco is maybe the most interesting character – it’s often shot beautifully, almost noir-ish, which almost makes me sad. It looks and sounds like a movie that was supposed to be so much better than it was. Unfortunately it’s just another bland romance with a light and improbable sci-fi twist – basically, a very pretty fashion show. And the thing is, I don’t buy Blake as anything more than a mannequinn. She’s a clothes horse, but her eyes are blank. Her face is incapable of communicating anything to the audience, and she pales next to Harrison Ford, who gives off some mega wattage in a hammy performance I didn’t expect from him.

Verdict: missed opportunity.

Oscar aftermath and Requiem for a Dream

Twenty years ago, having not met any of the other Assholes yet, my Oscar parties were just my younger brother and I in front of a TV. I was 13 years old and hadn’t seen most of the nominated films but I still felt like my opinions on every category needed to be heard. Not having a blog yet, my 11 year-old brother birdman oscarbecame the first victim of my Oscar rants. Not that he minded. Although less invested in the awards themselves than I was, I think he joined me each year for the fun of watching me guess wrong over and over again. “You’re really bad at this,” he used to say.

Twenty years later, I’m still really bad at this. I watch as many nominated films as I can now but only managed to call 12 of the 24 awards on Sunday. That’s 1 in 2 which I remember was pretty much exactly what I scored back in the early days. So all that preparation, sitting through Hnpharry Potter and Transformers movies just to have an opinion on visual effects, for nothing.

Not that I didn’t enjoy losing. Despite Neil Patrick Harris’ awkward hosting (“We’ll be right back with Oscars for Best Live Action Short, Animated Shorts, and Bermuda Shorts” being the low point), it was a great night full of red wine and spicy mustard that Jay brought back from Paris. There were pleasant surprises too. I don’t mind losing when losing means Big Hero 6 gets to take home an Oscar or when the excellent Whiplash takes home more than anyone but Sean expected.

Now that awards season is officially over, I’m a little burnt out. It happens every year.Starting on nomination day, I hit the ground running seeing so many movies that by the end the thought of sitting through another movie makes me exhausted and the smell of popcorn makes me nauseous.

Because we have this site now, taking my usual post-Oscar break isn’t an option so I went out and rented Requiem for a Dream, one of Luc’s favourite movies that I have been putting off seeing for fifteen years. I didn’t know much going in but I knew enough to think it would be unpleasant and 2000’s nightmarish cult classic did not let me down. Despite some scenes of hope and beauty early on, it started out sad and only got more punishing as it went on. Director Darren Aronofsky’s unusual filmmaking lets us experience the pain and anguish from the point of view of the characters. His style separates Requiem for a Dream from more conventional films about addictions. requiem for a dream

Requiem for a Dream mostly stands out because of Ellen Burstyn who, at the age of 68, was a good enough sport to walk around with 10 and 20 lb fat suits and sat wit5h the makeup department for hours putting on uncomfortable prosthetics. She gives a performance that’s so heartbreaking that the cinematographer reportedly sobbed through her big scene. She won an Oscar for this, right?

Nope. Just checked. She lost to Julia Roberts for Erin Brockovich. Come on, guys. No wonder I can never predict your choices.