Tag Archives: Emma Stone

Paper Man

Richard Dunn (Jeff Daniels) is a failed writer, and perhaps just a failure, period. His successful surgeon wife Claire (Lisa Kudrow) has rented him a little writerly cottage in Long Island and gifted him a laptop as well as the time and space needed to get to work on his second novel. Despite that sounding like absolute pure heaven to most of us, Richard doesn’t manage a shred of gratitude. Instead he wonders if this is in fact a trial separation in sheep’s clothing.

So I guess that’s why he doesn’t feel particularly guilty when he spends this time not at his desk but getting to know a teenage girl named Abby (Emma Stone). Abby is a lonely, solitary sort of person, despite the fact that she has a devoted friend and a bad boyfriend. She and Richard are practically kindred spirits, which they discover when he repeatedly hires her as a babysitter despite the fact that he has no kids. Yes, it plays as creepy as it sounds. And yet a friendship blooms in this unlikely, inhospitable place.

Despite Richard’s middle age, he is a child. He is petulant. Self-indulgent, he sees only MV5BMTMyNTk2MjcwNl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwOTMyNzUzMw@@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1501,1000_AL_his own need and sorrow. This is further indulged by his imaginary friend, Captain Excellent (Ryan Reynolds, before he played Deadpool or even Green Lantern), a super hero type in cape and tights who tells him what he wants to hear.

You can imagine what it might be like to be married to a Richard. This is a coming of age tale for a man who is way too old to need one. A late bloomer or just too pathetic for words? Richard straddles that line, uncomfortably. But he’s reaching out, so not all hope is lost. He’s perhaps reaching out to the wrong person, to an inappropriate person. How is this relationship likely to be interpreted – by his wife, or her parents, for example? And yet this is what it is to be human. It’s all about the connection. Richard and Abby can truly be themselves around each other in ways that they haven’t achieved anywhere else.

Jeff Daniels continues to be good in dark roles. Emma Stone is vulnerable and feverish. They’re a couple of wounded characters and they ooze their indie drama. There’s a danger of drowning in all the mutual wallowing. For all its quirk, Paper Man might be lumped into those “man-child-struggling-to-grow-up” films (coming of middle age?), but it is saved by some very compelling performances.

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The Favourite

Yorgos Lanthimos tells stories about relationships. He clearly finds us human beings fascinating, but the way in which he carves his observations out of us us with such surgical precision makes me feel like Lanthimos isn’t quite one of us.

In The Lobster, he imagined that single people were so desperate to pair up, they’d agree to do so under duress, and under deadline, with failure to find love transforming you literally into an animal. In The Killing of A Sacred Deer, a man watches the innocent pay for his sins until he can not only admit them, but make a sacrifice to atone. These films strike a unique tone; Lanthimos’ voice is absurd but bold and unwavering.

In The Favourite, Abigail (Emma Stone) is a former lady fallen quite low. She’s at the MV5BYzUzNzg5ZmUtMzAwNC00NjA0LTkzOGYtMmViNzAzZmY1NjhhXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMjcwODY0NTE@._V1_palace to beg for a job from her cousin, Sarah, Queen Anne’s trusted lady in waiting. Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) is mentally and physically frail. Between painful attacks of gout and a nervous disposition, she leads a lonely life on her throne, often bedridden, frequently deranged with pain or paranoia. Her only friend and companion is Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz), who basically rules the country in her place. Sarah is a strict go-between, acting as a buffer between Queen Anne and the demands of her royal position, and if she uses that position to exert her own will and influence, well…of course she does. Wouldn’t you?

But Abigail is way more wily than Sarah first gives her credit for. Abigail’s had to do some shitty things in order to survive, and she’s prepared to do what it takes to make sure she never has to suffer again. She throws her charm into overdrive, ,and soon Sarah realizes she’s competing with her cousin for Queen Anne’s attention.

In The Favourite, Yorgos Lanthimos’s gift to us is a power struggle between the three that is never dull, never less than captivating. Emma Stone is fresh-faced but  clever and calculating as Abigail, the servant with major ambition. Olivia Colman is desperately lonely and deeply insecure, but her queen has learned to wield her power to get what she needs. Rachel Weisz is brilliant, as ever. Insanely brilliant. Sarah has made a deal with the royal devil. She has goals and knows they don’t come cheap. Pretty soon there’s an insane transactional triad going on that you’ve got to see to believe – and to some extent, admire. Obviously, women in the 18th century weren’t exactly in the best position, not even if you were queen, but these 3 are making choices and bargains. They are driven by necessity, and desire.

This period piece is soaking in, nay, fermenting in, rich tapestries, both actual and metaphorical. You eyes will drip with colours and patterns and lush landscapes, but despite the beautiful 18th century dressings, this feels like Lanthimos’s most relevant, most contemporary work. Witty, naughty, and sometimes disturbingly dark, The Favourite is stunning, and an absurd amount of fun.

Battle of the Sexes

In 1973, a tennis has-been named Bobby Riggs thought of a great way to become relevant again: he challenged current champion Bobbie Jean King to a game. No, not just challenged her: assured the world that he would win, because he was male, and that was enough. Bobby Riggs probably didn’t truly believe in most of the chauvinistic slogans he chanted, but he knew they’d get him attention in the era of “burning bras” and “women’s libbers”, and he was right. He was a Kardashian of his time; he knew how to work the media and how to gain attention for himself. It just so happened that the women’s movement generally, and women’s tennis particularly, needed exactly this kind of opportunity.

Battle-of-the-Sexes-posterSteve Carell does an excellent job of making the buffoon Riggs more than just a brash loud mouth; in fact, Carell was probably my favourite part of the film. And that’s maybe a little sad considering this really should have been Billie Jean King’s story to tell. And to some extent, it is. It’s just that I thought Emma Stone’s version of her was pretty beige. She’s more than just a prominent pair of glasses with a side of closeted lesbian.

But at least the film is layered and tries to establish the game within the context of its time, not just within the characters’ lives but societally as well. The film may bear the name of The Battle of the Sexes but directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris seem to know that the most interest part of the conflict happened off the court.

This film hit theatres in a very timely fashion – a reminder of how incredibly not very far we’ve come. Now that it’s available to rent, why not watch it as a drinking game, and take a shot of female empowerment every time a Grand Slam title champion is referred to as a “little lady.” On the press circuit, the real Billie Jean King reminded us that at the time, a married woman couldn’t hold a credit card in her own name. But here we are in 2018 (happy new year) and you just know this movie didn’t get made without someone getting sexually harassed. In 40 years, what will the #MeToo movie say about us?

TIFF 2017: Bingo! I Got Bingo!, Part 1

I got TIFF Bingo! I never get TIFF Bingo!

I get close every year but I’m always missing something. Either I didn’t see enough foreign films or didn’t eat enough vegetables. And even for TIFF Bingo, I refuse to ARRRR!

But TIFF victory was mine this year and let me spend my next 3 posts telling you how I pulled it off.

3 Films By Female Directors

Battle of the Sexes– Okay, so only half of the directors are female but judges say… Still counts! Directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (Little Miss Sunshine), Battle of the Sexes tells the behind-the-scenes story of the now-famous exhibition match between Women’s Tennis star Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) and has-been Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell). It’s a hard movie to google or even mention without hearing about how this is the movie we need in these troubled times. “We could use more of those values today,” Dayton quipped while introducing the film. (While the directors deny that the 2016 election had anything to do with their interest in the project, its hard not to see the parallels between the 1973 match and the first Presidential debate last year).

Dayton and Faris’ film, written by Slumdog Millionaire’s Simon Beaufoy, relies a little too heavily on their positive message. It’s as if they felt that they were excused from making a smart movie jsut because most of us can agree that, yeah, sexism in general is bad and that King should be allowed to sleep with whichever gender she chooses. Battle of the Sexes has some serious pacing problems throughout the first half and Carell’s scenes tend to drag. And for something that’s billed as a “comedy”, it’s not very funny. Thankfully, things start to come together once King and Riggs start promoting the match and, by the end, the entire Princess of Wales theater was cheering for King to “whoop his ass”, as one audience member put it during the Q&A.

Stone and Carell are well-cast and do right by their characters, even if they both have done better work in better movies. Stone, in particular, nails King’s conflict with her own sexuality and the scenes between her and new lover Marilyn Barnett (Andrea Riseborough) are the best in the film. So the script and direction are uneven but it’s enough to make all of us cheer for King by the end and the men in the audience howl at the screen in outrage at the old timey sexism of the early 70s as if they’ve never heard women described as “irrational” before. It’s just not enough to make anyone remember Battle of the Sexes on nomination day.

Euphoria-  Writer-director Lisa Langseth cast Alicia Vikander in her first lead role in 2009’s Pure and Vikander has never forgotten who gave her her big break. She took a break from winning Oscars and starring in franchise films to produce and star in her old friend’s English-language debut.

Vikander’s Ines and Eva Green’s Emilie are sisters who rarely speak to each other. When the two reunite for a mysterious road trip, Ines is shocked to discover that Emilie has taken her to a country retreat that specializes in assisted suicides. It turns out that Emilie has been secretly battling cancer for the last 3 years and has decided to end her suffering. Her euthanasia is six days away and she has chosen to spend her final days eating her favourite foods and reconciling with her estranged sister.

In an extended Q&A, which as far as I can tell is just as long as a regular Q&A just where guests sit in chairs, Langseth denied that her new film makes any kind of statement one way or another on assisted suicides. To her, the film is really about two sisters. Euphoria has plenty of intriguing ideas about its fictional retreat but it’s the relationship between Ines and Emilie that drives the film. And it’s that relationship that fails to convince. It’s a shame too because Vikander and Green are completely believable as sisters. From the very first scene, their chemistry works and their body language alone raises questions about their shared history that Langseth’s script doesn’t offer very interesting answers to. The two actresses try their best to breathe life into characters that never really come together on the page but it’s just not enough. The climatic scene is so beautifully acted and directed that it almost makes up for the film’s many faults but it only winds up driving home what a missed opportunity the whole thing was.

Angels Wear White– I don’t love that my first two films of my post on Female Directors at TIFF were so uninspired. Thank God for Vivan Qu.

Angels Wear White is the second feature from Chinese writer-director Vivian Qu. Unlike Battle of the Sexes and Euphoria, it takes its time developing complex and believable characters. While working at a quiet seaside inn, eighteen year-old Mia witnesses the assault of 12 year-old Wen by a prominent male member of the community.. Despite possessing physical evidence that could jump start a police investigation that’s getting nowhere, Mia is reluctant to get involved. It soon becomes clear that she has reasons of her own for keeping her head down.

Angels Wear White is a multi-layered look at the exploitation of women by powerful men and how some men of privilege can easily escape the consequences of their actions. It’s a film that trusts its audience to be outraged by the outrageous instead of manipulating its audience to feel a certain way. I highly recommend Qu’s latest film. I only wish that I had stuck around for her Q&A.

So, there you have it. Three films by female directors. Stay tuned for more behind the scenes details of my TIFF Bingo victory.

SAG Awards

The 2017 awards season heats up as the SAG awards declare its winners.

hidden-figures-d2253fe9-c421-4a79-bce3-f3a344eae3aeOutstanding performance by a cast was won by Hidden Figures, edging out fellow nominees Captain Fantastic, Fences, Moonlight, and Manchester By the Sea, which was the most-nominated movie at the SAG awards but won absolutely nothing.

 

 

23rd Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards - Arrivals

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Denzel Washington took home his first SAG award for his work in Fences, which denzel-washington-7d58843b-c112-4664-9626-c3247cc5cbf3means Casey Affleck for Manchester By The Sea got shut out, as well as Andrew Garfield for Hacksaw Ridge, Ryan Gosling for La La Land, and Viggo Mortensen for Captain Fantastic. This is a rare exception in the Casey Affleck train. Do you think it’s likely to be repeated?

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Emma Stone’s performance in La La Land topped Amy Adams for Arrival, Emily Blunt forEmma Stone The Girl on the Train, Natalie Portman for Jackie and Meryl Streep for Florence Foster Jenkins. This makes her the frontrunner for the Oscar, with Isabelle Huppert and Natalie Portman possible upsets.

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viola-davis-23699bb3-331e-456a-b72f-4cd76124e741Viola Davis won  for supporting actress for Fences over Naomie Harris for Moonlight, Nicole Kidman for Lion, Octavia Spencer for Hidden Figures, and Michelle Williams for Manchester By The Sea. She’ll be pretty unstoppable come Oscar time. I applaud her bold performance even though I radically disagree with her presence in the supporting category at all.

The 23rd Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards - Red Carpet

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Mahershala Ali took the supporting actor trophy for Moonlight, besting Jeff Bridges for mahershala-ali-694ef816-f229-4b29-a4ef-756b3ffc8d94Hell or High Water, Hugh Grant for Florence Foster Jenkins, Lucas Hedges for Manchester By The Sea, and Dev Patel for Lion. This is the right move and I hope it repeats itself.

 

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Hacksaw Ridge won outstanding performance by a stunt ensemble in a motion picture over fellow nominees Captain America: Civil War, Doctor Strange, Jason Bourne, and Nocturnal Animals.

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Lily Tomlin received the SAG Lifetime Achievement lily-tomlin-30c3e284-59c0-4c49-bfc0-7888e8f6bc1dAward, presented by Dolly Parton and Jane Fonda. Amid the many political speeches of the night, including digs against Donald Trump and his insane ban on Muslims, Tomlin quipped What sign should I make for the next march?

 

 

 

The 23rd Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards, Arrivals, Los Angeles, USA - 29 Jan 2017

So, what do you think? Best dressed? Biggest upset? How did it stack up to your expectations and how will it affect your Oscar pool?

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La La Land: Discussion

If you’re looking for a spoiler-free review of the film, please check it out over here. I wrote it all the way back in September, fresh from seeing it at TIFF, and I’ve been waiting all this bloody time just to talk about what for me is the best film of the year. I was absolutely giddy for this movie, how it made me feel, how it made me think, how it whisked me away into something both surreal and familiar. We exited the theatre from La La Land and rushed on to the next (I think it must have been Lion) but between the two, I wept. I wept for heartbreak, and for beauty, because La La Land abounds in both.

If you’ve kept reading, then you know by now that La La Land, for all of its romance, does not have a traditionally happy ending. But are the characters unhappy? Mia and Seb separate in part because their ambitions overshadow their love. Was this the right move? Do they have regrets? Certainly they’ve both gone on to achieve the success they so coveted. Mia is married, la-la-land-1with children. When she sits in Seb’s club at the end, we are treated to an alternate version of events in which they manage to stay together. Do they wish that this was so? Do they still love each other? Have they moved on?

One of Chazelle’s unspoken themes must be “Is it worth it?” – is it?

During their courtship, the movie takes cliches about love and makes them true: love lifts them, they dance on air, they sing from rooftops. Did this feel organic to you in the movie? I often felt that when things felt intense to them, they broke out into song as a metaphor for feelings that are too fervent to verbalize. When words fail, they’d sing, or dance, which is often the way we feel in our excited little hearts when we’re first falling in love (reminds me of a certain scene in 500 Day of Summer).

Sean noticed that when the relationship got rocky, the movie got a little more boring, and frankly, a little repetitive. The songs are reused. But in time he felt like that was sort of the point: that the newness and wonder of the relationship had worn off, that they were beyond the first crush and settling into patterns and habits and less passion. The film itself reflects it. Did you find new meaning in songs as they were revisited? During the second half of the film, during the relationship’s demise, there is noticeably less music, which means less joy, less intensity. Their world goes a little drab when the shine has worn off. Did you miss the music when it was gone? Certainly when it returns in that final scene, it’s a heart breaker.

Originally Chazelle imagined that Miles Teller and Emma Watson would fullfill the lead roles. I can’t picture Teller ever being right for the part. Watson left the project so she could do another musical, Beauty and the Beast. Ryan Gosling ended up turning down the opportunity to play the Beast so he could do this instead, with frequent collaborator, Emma Stone. Chazelle has stated they were hired together intentionally, because they’re a modern-day version of an old-Hollywood couple, frequently working together and already having an established chemistry. Do you think anyone else could have pulled off these roles? Do you think either of them has a legit chance at an Oscar?

Seb states that jazz has to be experienced. He’s disgusted by people who use it as ‘background music.’ It’s a special language that he teaches her and she comes to appreciate. He takes full advantage in the final scene, telling her he still loves her using only his music, and he plays so passionately that she can see how he wishes things had been different. However, there’s an interesting part in the movie, the “sellout” phase where Seb is playing jazz in the background during a scene. Is this where it all went downhill? What would you say was their final straw?

Chazelle has deliberately taken this musical off the backlots and grounded in modern-day Los Angeles. The opening number, though originally not my favourite, helps set the tone. This is the world in which they live, but both are outsiders among that set. At the end of the number, Gosling gives Stone the finger before driving off. The offramp used in this number is the same one they used in Speed, where they had to jump the gap. Lots of real locations were used in the film – even Seb’s apartment is an actual apartment, not a set. Let’s not forget that the movie isn’t called Mia or Seb, it’s called La La Land: the city is also a character. City of stars, city of dreams. Did the locations help give the movie a sense of reality to you?

The one criticism I’ve heard from this movie is that it never addresses the true roots of jazz: does La La Land “whitesplain” jazz? Is it racist in its portrayal? Did Damien Chazelle fail us by casting white actors in a movie about jazz? Then I wondered – wouldn’t Whiplash have faced the same controversy? It’s another movie about jazz starring two white dudes, but I don’t recall hearing any hooplah over it [turns out the criticism was there all along]. Of course it’s not for me to say, but I can understand how it might sting a little to have an art form that was “invented” by African-Americans, music by black people for black people, to be told by white people. Not to say that jazz belongs to any one people, but if these are the only stories being told about jazz, then maybe the stories belong to the people who truly wrote them. And it does feel regressive in 2016 to see a white man play jazz, and a white woman dance to it, while people of colour make up the blurry background characters surrounding them, out of focus, besides the point. What do you think – is there cultural misappropriation going on here? Is Ryan Gosling a “white man saviour” in his quest to save jazz?

Mia and her friends are resplendent in primary colours because they’re young, and they dream in technicolour. She’s dressed in emerald, saphire, yellow. At the end of the movie though, she’s wearing white. She’s supposedly made her dreams come true, but she’s leached of colour. What’s that about?

TIFF: La La Land

Damien Chazelle has bested himself, and everyone else. With just 3 feature films to his name, he has established himself as a visionary, an innovator, a pusher of boundaries, a seeker of beauty.

Sean was immediately aflame with praise. He wasn’t just finding a spot in his top ten of the year for it, but dusting off old standbys in his all-time list to make room.  And let me remind you that this is a musical. Not normally Sean’s cup of tea. Sean needs one of three La La Land (2016) Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and Mia (Emma Stone)things to love a movie: sports, explosions, boobs. La La Land has none of those. It has singing and dancing and old-fashioned romance. Yet Chazelle has breathed new life into the genre, with riots of primary colour, energy so vivid you can taste it, and music that evokes deep troughs of emotion. And by ‘breathed new life’ I mean that he’s actually found a way to bring great musicals from cinema’s past into modern times. Forget made-for-Broadway musicals like Chicago or Into The Woods, their theatre sets turned into movie sets – it’s more reminiscent of Singin In The Rain. La La Land takes place in the streets of Los Angeles and Chazelle takes advantage of its sprawling landscape, and its glittering skyline.

Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, in the two lead roles, don’t just burst randomly into song. You very quickly get to sense that they sing when ordinary words just won’t do. They play Seb, a jazz pianist, and Mia, an aspiring actress, both a little down on their luck when the meet. The song and dance make up their courtship. The pair do not meet-cute; they meet-ugly several times until it takes: toes tap, together. New love is exhilarating. You feel as though you could sing your lover’s name from the rooftop, as if you could dance on air. It just so happens that in La La Land, they do these things literally. And it’s glorious. The fluid, ethereal dance steps will remind you of Fred and Ginger. Chazelle weaves magic, and a touch of fantasy, into their story, and even though you may never have waltzed among rs-248320-emma-stone-ryan-goseling-la-la-land-sing-dance-trailerthe stars in your sweetheart’s arms, you sort of know how it feels. But this great passion never lasts. It tapers off. Songs repeat. Sean felt himself longing for the exuberance of the beginning of the movie, and realized that was the point. Seb and Mia were missing it too.

If you’ve watched the gorgeous trailer, you’ll recognize the song that Ryan Gosling sings. The lyrics go: “City of stars, are you shining just for me?” But the movie reminds you that L.A. isn’t just a city of stars, it’s a city of dreams, and Seb and Mia are there to chase theirs. They haven’t come to Los Angeles to find love, but to find meaningful work. To become famous and\or successful. La La Land is about following your dreams, and it’s about the cost of following those dreams.

So Sean, whose movie reviews often consist of just three words (“It was good”) can’t shut up about this film. He’s fumbling to find the right words, but he knows he hasn’t just seen a good film, but experienced something unforgettable. I, on the other hand, have been oddly silent in the 24 hours since we saw it. Not for lack of trying, it’s  just that every time I open my face to speak, more tears fall out of it. And lest you start to worry that this is some tragedy wherein Ryan Gosling ends up shot, it’s not. These aren’t just tears of sorrow, but of joy and of wonder. This movie has made me feel. It has made me feel all the feels. I can’t even make it through this review with any dignity. La La Land is why I go to the movies. It’s unselfconscious and unabashed, a cake among pies, and as soon as I’ve finished weeping, I want another slice.

 

If you’re as desperate as I am to keep reading (and talking! and weeping!) about this wonderful movie, please visit our discussion section – SPOILERS – be warned.