Tag Archives: Ellen Page

Inception

Inception, to me, is a near-perfect movie. It’s immersive and cerebral but also stunningly visual. It has some complex concepts but the script is so fine-tuned that it reveals only exactly as much as we can digest at a time so that the world opens up to us like a flower.

It’s about a man, Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) who goes inside people’s dreams to steal or plant ideas. It’s a dangerous world because when you fuck with the mind, screws come loose and there’s just no telling when the whole thing might come apart at the seams. But the money’s good, and Cobb’s got some troubling personal circumstances that make the game worthwhile. Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is his right-hand
man, and often the voice of reason. Eames (Tom Hardy) can impersonate anyone. And Ariadne (Ellen Page) is the architect – she’s the world-builder, the one who buries mazes inside of dreams. They’re hired by Saito (Ken Watanabe) to plant an idea in a business competitor’s mind so that he will sell off the company he’s just inherited from his dead father. Robert (Cillian Murphy) is the mark: he’s the grieving son who’s about to undergo inception – planting an idea so subtly that he’ll never suspect it’s not his own. And Mal (Marion Cotillard) is the one who can bring it all crashing down around them at any moment. Look out for her.

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To pull off this memory heist, they’ll have to build a dream within a dream within a dream – levels that director Christopher Nolan is clearly all to gleeful to construct. In one, rain pours down in sheets: the dreamer has to pee. But just like the dreams themselves, Nolan’s movie is always working on multiple levels. The first is this new world of corporate espionage. But the second is Cobb’s sacrifice. It’s the things he has lost in pursuit of the ultimate theft, and his last shot at redemption.

When Inception becomes about Robert’s dream, there are multiple worlds on the go, so we flip deftly between them. But there’s a catch: each world is experiencing time differently – the further down you go, the slower time moves. There are some very worrying consequences to this. But then there’s also “reality” – though their bodies are sleeping, they have to be somewhere, and someone has to be taking care of them. In fact, someone has to care for sleeping bodies in each dream within a dream for them to be able to access the next level. It’s complicated stuff that Nolan somehow makes feel perfectly reasonable, a true testament to his talent as a writer as well as his precision as a director. He is the audience’s true friend, unwilling to lose us.

My favourite set piece is Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) in the hotel. At this point in time, they have lost gravity, so everything is floating around him. Not only is Arthur caring for the bodies of his comatose friends, he’s also coordinating an important and infinitely precise detonation, and he’s fighting off bad guys. I didn’t know it until I saw it, but a zero-gravity fight scene was exactly what I was missing in my life. Nolan prefers practical effects, so you can imagine the lengths he went to in order to breathe awe into the spectacle. JGL performed all but one stunt himself.

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The film has a tantalizingly ambiguous ending. Cobb has a totem, a fool-proof method of testing whether he’s still dreaming, or back in reality. But in the movie, his character walks away – either distracted, or uninterested, or certain of the result. But not the camera. The camera stays with his totem, and it’s the most epic rim shot of all time. Will it or won’t it? Nolan focuses on the totem rather than any human character. Nothing else matters. But it just keeps going and going, never giving us its judgment until – the screen goes black before a conclusion can be reached. I know it drives some people nuts, but I love an ambiguous ending. To me, it’s the ultimate mark of respect for one’s audience, that Nolan has trusted us to participate in his film’s end, to choose our own ending, in effect. And for someone who produced such a tight and specific script, it’s a ballsy move to put the ending in our hands. But that’s what he does. I believe there IS an answer, a right answer, and the movie is littered with clues that should point you in the right direction. But it’s okay not to know. It’s okay to debate it. It makes us collaborators.

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Of course, the whole film is a show of respect for his audience. Inception is possibly the most complicated blockbuster of our time. Nolan is careful and exacting but he doesn’t dumb things down. He introduces concepts about the subconscious mind: the genesis of ideas, the source of pain, the malleability of memory, the vulnerability of reality itself. It’s a lot. And the more we chew on this, the more meaningful the movie becomes. It’s a thriller with higher stakes than anything before it, because Nolan has tapped into something worse than death. But he also makes the movie a game; it can be won, or it can simply be enjoyed. If there are bits of the plot that go over your head that first viewing, it’s okay. Inception is one of Nolan’s airiest and most forgiving pieces. There’s a gracefulness to the way this movie moves through its layers. Even if there’s something you don’t quite grasp, you don’t get stuck on it. It’s fluid…almost suspiciously fluid, as in, plot holes don’t matter. Now why would that be?

Inception is also a capital M Metaphor. As in: to film is to dream. If you inspect Cobb’s team, you’ll see what I mean. Cobb is the director. Arthur is the producer. Ariadne is the production designer. Eames is the actor. Even more than that: Saito is the studio, and Robert is the audience.

We watched Inception recently because I had a dream wherein I was engaged to Prince Harry. We were working on the guest list for our wedding, and I was being all bubbly thinking about how Grandma would be so excited to meet the Queen. Grandma is 96 and a big fan of Elizabeth II, who is nearly her own age. Grandma is sharp as ever, sweet and bright and entertaining, but her mobility has taken a sharp hit recently, and even in my dream I knew that an overseas trip would be a stretch for her – but that the Queen would be quite the motivation. But then I realized: Grandma is not actually MY grandmother, she’s Sean’s. If I’m marrying Prince Harry, I’m not married to Sean and I don’t know Grandma. And the minute I had that thought, my dream started to crumble. Literally, the walls fell over as if they had been the set of a play that was being struck down. I had contradicted myself and shown the dream for what it was: a fiction. I routinely inflict my dreams on Sean while we shower the next morning, and being the disgusting cinephiles that we are, talk naturally turned to Inception (and, in fact, to Inside Out, wherein characters are seen “filming” dreams for the sleeping Riley). Movies and dreams have always mixed, and have always had blurry boundaries. Inception exploits that. Nolan invites us to dream alongside him.

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Flatliners

Courtney is a medical student in a competitive hospital. She’s not content with just being the best, she wants to be a pioneer, and she’s got her eye on quite the break-through: she wants to be an expert in the afterlife. To that end, she recruits a few brave colleagues to do some top-secret experimenting in the hospital’s basement. She somehow convinces them to stop her heart for a full minute before resuscitating her. When she wakes up, her brain is re-wired, keyed up to excel, to remember everything, to reach further, better, higher. So of course her fellow students are jealous, and curious, and lineup to have their hearts stopped.

Ellen Page is kind of the coolest. I respect her. She makes everything she’s in better. Flatliners-stillBut you can hardly make something better if it isn’t remotely good to begin with. The thing is, the idea behind this movie is probably solid. But this movie takes an interesting premise and immediately flushes it down the nearest toilet. It takes philosophy and science and turns it into a party drug, giving lots of opportunity for shirtless dancing but not a whole lot else. It’s supposed to be a horror movie and it does lazily throw some things at the screen in order to startle you, but it doesn’t try hard enough at anything. I don’t even think the original was all that great, but trying to make a second cup of tea from the same old tea bag makes for a very weak cuppa.

The most character-building the movie strives for is to give each student a name, and a haircut. Basically they’re all greedy, selfish, horny little pricks. Shouldn’t med students know better than to intentionally die?

Newsflash, guys: bringing stuff back from the dead is rarely a good idea. It’s funny that the director made a movie about this but never took the lesson to heart.

TIFF 2017: Bingo! I Got Bingo!, Part 2

Catching 3 films by female directors is easy. The TIFF lineup this and every year has lots of interesting films to choose from, many of them directed by women. Getting full TIFF Bingo isn’t so easy.

I have stress dreams about the Midnight Madness ball and avoid it like it’s a not deep-fried vegetable so that’s out. And, while Battle of the Sexes had its moments, I can’t honestly say that I thought “Now this I’ve got to try”.

But I did…

Thank a Volunteer

Mom and Dad– The festival and the city that hosts it can be a little overwhelming at first. Even though I feel like an expert by the end of my stay, every year I’m feeling a little disoriented when I first get into town. So I’ve just checked into my hotel, it’s 11:40 at night, and I’ve got a Midnight Madness screening of Brian Taylor’s Mom and Dad in 20 minutes. I’m running around trying to find Ryerson theater and I’m getting stressed out imagining all the ways that I could humiliate myself trying to volley a beach ball in a crowded theater. Luckily, a friendly orange shirt is never far away and I was very thankful to the volunteers who helped me find where to line up. I never miss a chance to thank a volunteer and I applaud for them every time the TIFF commercial prompts us to.

So, anyway, Mom and Dad. Taylor (Crank, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengence) seems to be just begging us to make this a cult classic. An unexplained virus suddenly hits suburbia in the middle of the school day that infects parents with an uncontrollable urge to violently murder their offspring. Poor Carly (13 Reasons Why’s Anne Winters) and Josh Ryan (Transparent’s Zackary Arthur) are forced to fend for themselves against their now-deranged parents played by Nicolas Cage and Selma Blair.

Mom and Dad is bananas. Almost every aspect of the film- from the basic concept down to the music and over-caffeinated editing- seems driven by the same manic energy that fuels Cage’s typically unhinged performance. The actor, who in the eyes of the enthusiastic Midnight Madness crowd may as well have been John Lennon, already starts overacting long before the virus starts making everyone crazy. He outCages himself in this movie and- while it would be a stretch to call it a good performance- it feels like the right performance for this movie. But it’s Blair, surprisingly, who somehow finds a way to keep this runaway train from going off the rails. From the start, we can tell that her character is a good mom. She loves her kids but she’s exhausted and taken for granted. She’s the only believable character in the whole thing and her presence brings Mom and Dad back to earth. It’s through her that we start to sense that the virus is tapping into an existential crisis that was already in place before the infection.

To call Mom and Dad good would be ridiculous but it’s not really trying to be. It just wants to be fun and, for the most part, it is. It’s often funny, even coming dangerously close to smart, especially when it’s in terrible taste.

Phone Dies

I got some great photos this year, many of which you can see if you follow us on Twitter. I like sitting in the front row so I was able to get some shots of Nicolas Cage, Alicia Vikander, Alexander Payne, and Darren Aronofsky that I’m really happy with. But you won’t see a photo of Ellen Page (who, if I’m not mistaken, counts as a superhero out of spandex) because my phone died.

The Cured– So I did manage to get a couple of pictures of Ellen Page during the Q&A for The Cured. They’re just not tweetable because my phone didn’t have enough juice left for the flash to work. So it’s not a great picture. It’s a shame because I love her.

And, yes, fortunately for my TIFF Bingo card, my phone officially died on my way back to my hotel.

On to The Cured. This debut feature from Irish director David Freyne finds yet another way to breathe new life into a genre that seems to never run out of ways to reinvent itself: the zombie movie. Once this version of the zombie apocalypse has died down, two thirds of the “infected’ have been successfully cured and are slowly being reintegrated into society. Ex-zombies don’t have it easy though. They still have painful memories of the suffering that they inflicted and most people still don’t trust them.

Senan (Sam Keeley) has just been released from a treatment facility and is taken in by his brother’s wife Abbie (Page) who has been widowed by the outbreak. When he falls in with a militant group of zombie rights activists, Senan struggles to find a balance between his desire to fit in and atone for his crimes and his instinct to stand up for his fellow cured.

To Freyne, his film is really about how we treat each other in today’s mixed up world. It’s a serious movie with serious themes that somehow finds time to deliver the goods when it comes to zombie scares. Freyne’s direction is confident and precise, more so than almost any other movie I saw at the festival this year.

So there you have it. I wore out my phone battery, saw 3 films by female directors, thanked every volunteer that I spoke to, and even managed to see some good movies while I was at it. By now, experienced Bingo players have probably already spotted my path to victory but please feel free to stay tuned for more details.

 

My Life As A Zucchini

Zucchini goes to live in an orphanage after his alcoholic mother dies. The orphanage is not a bad place. This is not a bad-orphanage movie. It’s about the broken children who live inside. The kids are there for many reasons (deportation, mental health, abuse, poverty, etc); some can dream of one day returning home, while others know they never will. For the most part the children band together and support one another as they cope with loss.

MV5BMGU1ZDI5Y2ItOTY2OS00ZjBiLThkYzEtZDIxOTA4NmVmMjE3XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMjUyOTI5MQ@@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,999_AL_My Life As A Zucchini is stop-motion animated in a very compelling way. It’s a simple story with colourful characters and a strange title but make no mistake, there’s little silliness awaiting you. It’s a pretty bleak story.

I watched the version dubbed in English, which features voice work by Nick Offerman, Will Forte, Ellen Page, and Amy Sedaris. But even with all this wonderful adult interference, director Claude Barras keeps the story firmly within Zucchini’s corner. The story is told through the eyes of children, almost without taint from the adult world. It is heartbreaking but also tender and compassionate. By focusing on the resilience of children and the difference even one caring person can make, hope shines its rays even on this dark little tale.

I enjoyed this very much. It’s not as heavy on the heart as it sounds, and Barras manages to wrap things up in under 70 minutes. I’m always a fan of the loving work that goes into stop-motion and this one is no exception – perhaps it is exceptional. The expressive characters and honest story give My Life As A Zucchini a sensitivity, like a spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down. I’m very taken by this and am heartened to see animation tackling such complex characters so deftly. Definitely worth a watch, tissues at the ready.

Ottawa International Animation Festival 2016: Window Horses

Young Canadian Rosie Ming has kept her interest in poetry a secret so her grandparents and best friend are shocked when she announces that she has been invited to a poetry festival in Iran. Though she can’t help wishing that the festival was in Paris instead, Rosie soon discovers that she has a lot to learn from her fellow poets from around the world about ancient Persian poetry and her own family history.

Of course, some of my favourite movies are animated but I am realizing lately how little I know about animation itself. I know very little about the different styles of animation and wouldn’t know how to go about describing the look of this film.

Luckily, I have some stills.

 

Window Horses is as much a story about multicultural identity as it is about family. Rosie was born and raised in Canada to a Chinese-Canadian mother and a Persian father. With her mother now deceased and her father now estranged, she knows very little about either family’s heritage. When asked about her father, she has only one thing to say “My father abandoned me when I was 7”. As she starts to realize that nearly every local she meets in Iran seems to know him, she is forced to revisit the oversimplified story she’s been telling herself about her father.

Yes, the resentments we hold on to, maybe especially when it comes to our own family, are more complex than we let on. We’ve seen this before in movies and I did find the family drama a little played out and predictable. Thankfully, Window Horses has a lot more to offer than just a mystery surrounding Rosie’s family. Window Horses works best when it shows us the transcendent power of art. Rosie spends a lot of the movie discovering Chinese and Iranian culture through poetry and barely even needs to speak a word of Mandarin or Farsi to relate to the words. German, Mandarin, French, and Farsi verses are all brought to life with some beautifully creative animation all without a single subtitle. It is the film’s most brilliant device by far.

Window Horses may drag a little when it relies too heavily on exposition  and voice actress Sandra Oh is badly miscast as Rosie but, for the most part, director Ann Marie Fleming has made quite a nice film. Its unique sense of humour and literally poetic animation more than make up for its any minor complains I might have.

Tallulah

The last time Ellen Page and Allison Janney shared the (figurative) stage, it was in Juno: Page was the pregnant teen and Janney the surprisingly supporting stepmom. Now they’re reteamed in similarly maternal roles. Page plays a young drifter who kidnaps a baby, and Janney is the duped divorcee who believes herself to be a Grandma.

This is not a perfect movie by any means and yet you’re going to spend the next 4 minutes reading about its virtues. Why? Because this movie was written and directed by a woman Tallulah_Unit_00820R-1000x562(Sian Heder) and features three of the most complexly-written and -rendered female characters you’re going to see on the big (well small – it’s on Netflix) screen this year.

Although the movie goes through the obligatory police-crime drama, its focus is really on these 3 women and their relationship to the world. Tallulah and Margo in particular yearn to feel connected, to feel necessary to someone, but are terrified of what that means. To love so enormously is also to risk loss. Wanting to be needed can lead to feeling disposable. Carolyn, on the other hand (Tammy Blanchard), is the dismayed if distracted mother now missing one baby. Although her young child needs her very much, she neglects her in order to get those same feelings from a man. She ends up utterly alone – blamed, shamed, and full of regret.

The movie shifts tone rather abruptly – one minute Page and Janney are trading stiletto-sharp barbs, the next they’re unloading some Louis Vuitton-worthy emotional baggage. Page is a petite powerhouse and Janney an exceptionally talented opponent and the film is never better than when the two are struggling to find a path between their fierce independence and the need to show someone else their pain. Theirs is about as fucked up as a mother-daughter dynamic can get, but they come from such a real and honest place6840c860-4efc-11e6-86d5-59965f7b75f9_20160721_Tallulah_Dead you can’t help but be drawn in. I am so proud to tell you about a movie in which women are taking care of themselves, and taking care of each other, and finding strength, not weakness, in accepting help from others. It’s heartening, just fucking inspiring, to see women taking this leap on behalf of all of us: reach out. Connect. It’s scary and risky and worth it.

 

 

 

Editor’s note: this post was not intended as an endorsement of kidnapping. Back away from the baby.

TIFF 2015: Freeheld

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I was moved- and pissed off- by Freeheld, as I’m sure director Peter Sollett and screenwriter Ron Nyswaner intended and I can only imagine what it must have been like to attend the premiere the night before.

Freeheld tells the true story of veteran police officer Laurel Hester’s battle for the right to pass on her pension benefits to Stacie Andree, her same-sex partner, when she’s diagnosed with lung cancer. Justice doesn’t come easy. Some cops have a big problem with a domestic partner having the same benefits as their wives do and those that don’t are too afraid to speak up. Some freeholders, despite having the legal right to honour her request, refuse on the grounds of their own religious beliefs.

This movie made me mad. “God will be mad” as an excuse for withholding from others what is rightfully theirs, has been getting old for a long time. How gay marraige affects straight people in any way is something I will never understand. Still, the right finds ways to insist that their own rights are being violated. So, yes, I rooted very strongly for these characters and against those who stood in their way and I could tell that Monday’s TIFF audience did too.

Freeheld succeeds admirably as a piece of Preaching to the Choir, even if not necessarily as a piece of cinema. Nyswaner’s script seems carefully designed to beg for as many Oscars as possible, with almost every character being given their Big Speech Oscar moment.

He pretty much gets away with it too. Julianne Moore, Ellen Page, Michael Shannon, and Steve Carell elevate the lazy writing, nail their speeches, and each bring something special and unique the the project. The outstanding acting and undeniably interesting and important story go a long way in saving this otherwise conventional drama.