Tag Archives: Ewan McGregor

Zoe

Got your fill of rom-coms? How about a sci-fi romance for a change?. Ewan McGregor plays Cole, an artificial intelligence engineer who creates a beautiful and highly realistic synthetic “woman” named Zoe (Lea Seydoux). Cole’s lab isn’t just making convincing companions, it’s also revolutionizing love. “The Machine” is a highly complex algorithm that can predict whether a relationship will ultimately work out. It has also synthesized a drug that can mimic the feeling of falling in love. But all of these things together don’t exactly mean a world full of meaningful relationships: humans will always exploit emotions. And Cole is lonelier than most.

MV5BZDZjOTUyNTctM2E0Zi00MGIwLWEyZmYtYTIzNDg2MmZiN2FmXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNzk3NjQ1MTc@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,999_AL_Zoe doesn’t understand that she’s synthetic at first, and it’s a little heartbreaking when Cole has to tell her. Then she questions everything. Like these unrequited feelings she has for him – was she programmed to have them? She was not. But as the two grow closer, and become a couple, she senses things are still unequal. Knowing who she is, what she is, has him holding something back.

Zoe is a movie about the complexities of love, and what happens when technology disrupts it. Men are eager to visit synthetic brothels (Christina Aguilera plays a robot hooker, for some reason) but will they ever trust synthetics to have real feelings? Of course, in a world where those feelings can be manufactured and manipulated with a pill, I wonder if they haven’t been sufficiently devalued that synthetic or not, it shouldn’t really matter anymore.

At any rate, there are some really interesting ideas here, they just aren’t executed all that well. The movie opens up this delicious Pandora’s box but then offers almost no social commentary, and its protagonist’s navel-gazing is immature and insensitive. There are no glaring problems with any of the movie’s moving parts, it’s just that they don’t add up to anything all that gripping or compelling (except for the soundtrack, which was the only notable standout). With themes of authenticity of both personhood and emotion, Zoe pales in comparison to Ex Machina and even Her, and you can’t quite forgive its shortcomings. I suppose movies are a little like robots in that, if you can’t make it better, why bother making it at all?

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Perfect Sense

Susan is a scientist who knows she shouldn’t smoke but does. Michael is a chef who cleans the fish smell from his hands with lemon and isn’t afraid to bum a smoke once in a while. The two meet, and begin to fall in love as if they’re two characters in a movie compelled to do so (which, come to think of it, they are). The catch: a new epidemic is sweeping through hospitals. After a sudden temper tantrum, often prompted by a wall of grief and loss, the victim loses one of their senses. The first wave loses their sense of smell.

So this is the world in which Susan (Eva Green) and Michael (Ewan McGregor) are struggling to find love. With every new sense lost, countries are increasingly chaotic and governments are just barely holding on. People aren’t really eating in restaurants anymore, so Michael’s work dries up (how do you cook without smell? how do you enjoy eating?) just as Susan’s is put to the test: she’s at the forefront of research into this epidemic, and her voice-overs provide some insight. Don’t worry, though, you don’t need smell to repent. It’s never too late for that.

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You can tell from the turtlenecks this is NOT The Perfect Fashion Sense.

Anyway, an epidemic is not an obvious setting for a love story, and I’ve possibly never been so fully turned off than watching an orgy of gluttony that was remarkably non-discerning. Perfect Sense is no Love in the Time of Cholera. It doesn’t succeed in being any big character study, or any great romance, but it doesn’t quite reach for the bigger picture either, though the pieces are all there. On balance I’d say this is still worth a watch – there are a couple of astonishing scenes, and for me at least it forced a few of those powerful What If questions without which life would be less sweet.

August: Osage County

Truth tellers: every family has one. They say mean shit and then hide behind its being “the truth” as if no harm ever came from telling the truth. But that’s not the truth. The truth is that the truth can be painful, can be private, and can be left unsaid. And as humans with emotional intelligence and self-control, we have no excuse not to hold back. My grandmother is a truth-teller, often leaving hurt feelings in the wake of her “plain-spokenness”.  I don’t always understand what has kept my grandparents together for 66 years (well, okay, probably Catholicism, and good old fashioned not believing in divorce), but my grandmother is not a pill-popper and my grandfather is not a suicidal alcoholic. So there’s that.

When Bev (Sam Shepard) goes missing, his wife Violet (Meryl Streep) rallies the troops. Daughter Ivy (Julianne Nicholson) is already there, always there, but it’s favoured daughter Barb (Julia Roberts) who really matters, who will make everything better when she arrives.

Favourites: every family has these too. Maybe it’s the one who reminds you most of yourself, or maybe the complete opposite. And maybe it changes over time, favouring the best achiever, and then the one who produces the most grandchildren, and then favouring the one who sticks closest to home. There isn’t always a rhyme or reason but we do seem to agree that we must never, ever admit it out loud. But your kids know, just the same as you knew it of your parents. It’s the way of life. Most people are just pretty good at being diplomatic about it.

Violet’s not. Violet’s pretty nasty about it. Ivy is the good one, but Barb is the favourite. Karen (Juliette Lewis) doesn’t really even figure, but it’s mostly nice when she shows up. And she does show up eventually, because her father’s bloated body is fished out of the river and now it’s not his disappearance they’re dealing with, it’s his death. The dynamic between the sisters is fragile, and with Violet twisted with grief and pills, she lets her truth flag fly. And you know how gets caught in the crossfire? Everyone.

The passing on of pain: Violet and her sister Mattie Fae (Margo Martindale) were abused by their mother. Violet is so self-righteous about her own pain that she can’t fathom the pain she causes others, or she doesn’t think it rates. Violet is cruel to her daughters, and Mattie Fae can’t seem to stand her son Charles (Benedict Cumberbatch). That’s the way abuse works, it trickles down the generations. Is Barb messing up her own daughter, Jean (Abigail Breslin)? She’s suffering too.

Family secrets: What’s a family without its secrets? Maybe secrets are the cement that hold us all together. Only Ivy and Charles know they’re in love, despite being cousins. Only Mattie Fae knows that Ivy and Charles aren’t cousins, they’re siblings. Only Barb and her husband (Ewan McGregor) know they’re separated. Only the devoted nursemaid knows what Karen’t fiance is trying to do with Barb’s young daughter. And only Violet knows that Bev’s death was actually a suicide.

You’ve got to have nerves of steel to get through August: Osage County. The family drama is raw as fuck. But Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts put in incredibly strong performances amid a top-notch cast that never puts so much as a baby toe wrong. It’s note perfect, it’s just not pretty. A lifetime of pain is more poisonous than all the pills in the world. This film, based on a brilliant play by Tracy Letts, is a force.

 

Beauty & The Beast

One word: underwhelming.

This movie is production-designed within an inch of its life. Like, literally it’s clogged with lustre and decadence. I find no fault with how it looks; a good faith effort was made to pay tribute to the original, to remind us of the classic animated movie from 1991, while still forging its own little identity, diverging enough from the already-trodden path to inject it with a life of its own.

Unfortunately, none of the new material really lands. Is this just me, loyal to the film of my childhood? Sadly not. But it does pale in comparison. No matter what Bill Condon does, this film inevitably fails to capture the magic of the first.  This is hardly surprising since it beautyandthebeast-beast-windoweschews the magic of animation. Well, traditional animation. The truth is, “live action” or not, Belle is the only human being in that castle. Yes, Ewan McGregor danced around in a motion capture suit to play Lumiere, and Dan Stevens waltzed in steel-toed 10-inch stilts for the ballroom scene, but they’re both playing CGI characters. Why hire greats like Emma Thompson, Ian McKellan, and Audra McDonald, only to hide them behind computer graphics, appearing “live” only in the last 20 seconds of the film? It seems a waste. I rather liked the live action remake of Cinderella, but then, that was always a story about humans, wasn’t it? Jungle Book  (which already has been) and Lion King (which is about to be) turned into “live action” films have little to no humans in them, so what’s the point? They were MADE for animation. Let’s leave them be.

Emma Watson, as Belle, is brilliant casting. She was originally cast in La La Land but left the project to do this instead. I think it was the right choice for her. Her voice is lovely and pure, and she reminds us that Belle isn’t just beautiful, but also smart and brave. Ryan Gosling was originally cast as the Beast and left this movie to do La La Land, and I think that was the right choice for him. Dan Stevens took over the role of the beast, and he’s okay. Director Bill Condon had hoped to create a beast look out of prosthetics, and he did film it that way, but in the end he was overruled and a CGI beast face was superimposed. Kevin Kline as Belle’s father, Maurice, is a wise choice. He’s older and less of a buffoon than in the animated film, but they don’t quite make sense of the character despite adding some back story. Luke Evans has the pleasure of playing everyone’s favourite cartoon narcissist, Gaston. No longer roughly the size of a barn, he’s still the cocky, selfsure Gaston we remember. It’s his sidekick who’s less recognizable.

The animated Le Fou is nothing more than a clown. In the 2017 version, Disney is proud to proclaim him their first openly-gay character, to which I say: hmm? This was maybe the movie’s biggest let down. Le Fou does not strike me as gay. He’s the kind of closeted gay that you only know about because it was issued in a Disney press release. What little humanity he shows already makes him too good for Gaston, but no real motivation is ever ascribed to him. It’s a Disney movie, so of course there is no real sexual tension, but nor is there even the slightest hint of romance or passion. There are more lingering glances between a young girl and a horned beast than there are between these two men. Nice try, Disney, but I’m not buying it. And it’s probably not the greatest idea to tout your first and only “gay character” as this bumbling idiot who languishes with an unrequited crush on a real prick, whom he helps to hook up with women. That’s pretty condescending.

But I take it back: Le Fou is not the most disappointing thing about the movie. In my little batb-02422r-2-a7172c76-a61b-423e-a41b-5965b3fef116girl heart, the biggest disappointment was The Dress. To me it looked cheap. And I’m sure it wasn’t: I’m sure that a dozen people toiled over its construction. I’ve heard it used 3,000 feet of thread, 2160 Swarovski crystals, and took over 12,000 designer hours to complete. Not worth it. The dress is disenchanting. In the original version, the dress is luminous, we believe it is not merely yellow, but spun gold. The one Emma Watson wears seems like a poor knock-off. It feels flat. And what’s with her shitty jewelry? In the cartoon, Belle’s ht_belle_beauty_beast_kb_150126_4x3_992neck is unadorned; why ruin a perfect neckline with even the most impressive of baubles? But Emma Watson’s Belle accessorizes her ballgown with a shitty pendant on a string. I can only assume this is blatant product placement and this cheap trinket will be sold en masse in a shopping mall near you, but it’s so incongruous it’s a distraction. For shame.

And for all the little changes this movie makes, tweaks to the back stories and the plausibility, one glaring detail remains pretty much the same. In the 1991 movie, the wicked witch condemns the prince to live as a beast until he can love and be loved in return; if he fails to do so before the last petal falls from the enchanted rose, he will remain a beast forever, and his household staff will remain household objects. In the animated classic, we know that the beast has until his 21st birthday to make this happen, and that this has been a period of 10 years. Therefore, the curse bestowed upon him befalls him at age 11, and for what? Because he didn’t let a stranger inside the house while his parents were away? He’s ELEVEN! And his servants are blameless. It always struck me as an extremely cruel not to mention unfair punishment. In this recent film, the role of the witch is expanded, but this only makes her motivations murkier. We see how harshly she has condemned a young prince, but she seems to overlook much worse transgressions. If this is hard for me to swallow, I imagine it must be even more unsettling for children who need to know that rules and punishments are meted out fairly, at least.

I could not have skipped this movie, the pull was too great. But there was no childhood here to be relived, just a fraudulent imitation that had lost its sparkle.

TIFF: American Pastoral

pastoralbar640Ewan McGregor makes his directorial debut with American Pastoral, an adaption of Philip Roth’s novel. As always, I haven’t read the book and Jay has. She reports the movie to be quite faithful to the book, even pared down to have a two hour run-time.

I feel like the book must have a black cover, because American Pastoral is dark from start to finish. It is methodical in chronicling a family’s unravelling and is as far from idyllic as you can get.

With its dialogue-heavy scenes divided by contextual stock footage clips, American Pastoral felt more like a play than 21st century cinema. It is richly shot but largely static. The style mostly fit but at times the transitions were jarring. When they worked the transitions felt like covers of Life magazine, reenacted. Except as far as I know, Life magazine never featured a pipe bomb explosion at a small-town post office. Perhaps my dad’s magazine collection is incomplete.

In the Q&A session following the screening, McGregor described his approach to directing as an attempt to give life to the movie he saw in his head when he read the script. He imagined some nice shots and paid the price to get them (literally in the case of some costly train platform scenes). His foray into directing is a workmanlike effort but not a distinguishing one.

As an exploration of the destructive power of children, American Pastoral succeeds. As entertainment? Not so much, not for me.

By the closing credits I felt sad and drained, which I have no doubt is exactly how McGregor and Roth would have wanted me to leave the theatre. But because nothing stuck with me other than that empty feeling, American Pastoral is not a movie I can recommend.  If you enjoyed the book it’s likely worth a shot though, and in that case I hope you can connect with it in all the ways that I didn’t.

 

Jane Got A Gun

Despite what you may think a glaringly obvious move, there is nary an Aerosmith tune in this whole dang movie. Sure it’s a western set in the 1800s, but that wouldn’t have stopped Baz Luhrmann, I’ll tell you that much, pard’ner.

When Jane’s husband comes home all shot up with bad guys on his tail, she’s got no choice but to hustle up the services of the nearest hired gun…who just happens to be her ex-lover.

maxresdefaultI’ve never been in an old-timey gun fight (knock wood!) but I imagine the only thing worse than being laid up in bed full of bullet holes, gangrene mere moments away, is to watch your wife fall into the sexy arms of her much-handsomer ex-boyfriend as he protects the both of you and you’re too weak to even protest. How embarrassing!

Although I’d say it’s way more embarrassing to have made such a generic film with absolutely no personality despite passable performances by Natalie Portman and Joel Edgerton (full disclosure: Ewan McGregor is purportedly also in this film but I totally failed to notice him…if the story checks out, you may remember that these three appeared together in the Star Wars prequels, so they do have a history of making bad choices).

It’s not exactly a surprise that this film failed to make a saloon-worthy splash, it was syphilitic with trouble since day one. Actually, since the day before day one, which is when the original director, Lynne Ramsay, walked off the project after a 3-day stand-off with untitledproducers who refused to give her final cut. Cinematographer Darius Khondji followed in solidarity, as did Jude Law. Bradley Cooper was brought on to replace him, with Gavin O’Connor in the director’s seat, totally unprepared. Michael Fassbender had already left over clashes with Ramsey so when Cooper left, Joel Edgerton was shuffled over from bad guy to good and Ewan McGregor took up the baddie role. It’s kind of a miracle this movie got made at all, and maybe they should have just left well enough alone.

Not that it’s despicable, it’s just not very entertaining. It looks really good in spots but it’s got the plot of every western you’ve ever seen, interspersed with confusing flash-backs. And I must say: huge missed opportunity. This could have been a table-turning, gun-slinging feminist western but instead Portman dispassionately pinballs from one man to the next and is very much a damsel in distress and that made me one disinterested dame.

 

The Force is Forced Upon me

It was only a month ago when I took in my first Star Wars movie, ever (The Force Awakens). The original trilogy was a big deal to Sean, as a kid, but he failed incite the same domnic-west-star-warspassion in me. Lucky for him, I underwent a hefty back surgery a couple of weeks ago and ever since then have been a) trapped in bed b) under the heavy influence of drugs. So it was under these influences that Sean took advantage of his poor, sickly wife, and we tackled the first three movies in the series, Episodes I, II, and III.

The Phantom Menace: Watching these movies turns out to be like playing peekaboo with celebrities. I may be in and out of consciousness, but I’m pretty sure I’ve spied Dominic West (of The Wire) as a guard, and handmaids greatly resembling Keira Knightley and Sofia Coppola. I like Ewan McGregor and Liam Neeson together, but almost everything outside of those two feels a bit silly. I’m definitely not a fan of Jar Jar Binks and while I’m not sure he was intentionally meant to be a racist caricature, he does make me cringe every time he talks. Interesting to see Darth Maul in action – I’ve long heard this DotF_TPM.pngvillain praised, and am disappointed that he turns out to be over and done with so quickly. Definitely digging his double-bladed light saber, though his fight with the two Jedis was uneven for me, sometimes thrilling, other times downright implausible. What I find most unforgivable in this movie are the cheesy screen wipes. Shouldn’t we, as a society, be above those by now?

Attack of the Clones: This one feels familiar when it opens – maybe a little The Fifth Element-ish? I also spent way too much time wondering – is that Rose Byrne? (yes, it is) and – that’s not Joel Edgerton, is it? dorme-star-wars(again, it is). Again I’m finding Ewan McGregor to be the best thing about this movie, and am missing Liam Neeson. Hayden Christensen isn’t great but mostly I’m stuck on why a photos-star-wars-attack-of-the-clones-23124364-1600-1200Queen and Senator would be attracted to such a whiny kid (last movie there was an 8 year age difference between the actors; this movie there’s none). I’m having a hard time keeping track of good guys and bad guys. I’m very WTF about Jimmy Smits appearing – um, really? Jimmy Smits? And same with The Phantom Menace, the very evident over-usage of green screens is tiring and flat. Also I’m wondering how it is that every time someone fights, they’re either on a very narrow bridge, or on the rim of a very big hole. Seems unlikely.

Revenge of the Sith: Whoa, this one’s got quite the body count. There’s a lot of beheadings\behandings\beleggings going on. And Anakin catching on fire? Brutal. And it star-wars-episode-iii-revenge-of-the-sith-hd-movie-2005-4goes on a for a LONG time. I was really feeling that Anakin’s back story was insufficient to explain why he’d gone over to the dark side but he might just be crispy enough to warrant it after all. As a fan of the original trilogy, Sean had a lot of problems with the prequels, not least of all because everything is so damned shiny and new in these movies. CGI makes everything look sleek and sparkly. All the ships and robots are rendered flawlessly, a huge contrast to the more practical effects used in the original movies, but chronologically, it makes no sense that 30 years later, the technology looks so much clunkier. I noticed that things like R2D2 and Vader’s mask are also so sleek that they end up looking like cheap plastic. But I’m having an even harder time justifying Padme’s death scene. Lost the will to live? Oh, is that an official medical diagnosis now? Look, lady, I’m sorry your first marriage didn’t work out and your husband turned out to be a bit of a dick (although let’s face it: Darth Vader is much sexier than joel-edgerton-star-warswhiny, emo Anakin, an entitled millennial from another millennium) but you can’t just check out. She was a fighter this whole time, politically savvy and a better shot than any of her male counterparts, but she can’t face raising her babies alone? Come on! So the babies get split up, to be raised by Jimmy Smits and Joel Edgerton. Is that weird? Yes it’s weird! Almost as weird as creepy little Hayden Christensen somehow morphing into James Earl Jones. That’s the kind of math that only George Lucas can account for.

 

So what did I think? I was as underwhelmed as I always suspected I’d be. These movies aren’t shitting all over my childhood since I still haven’t seen the original trilogy, but at no point was I glad that there were 3 whole movies to sit through. I never cared to see more. I never felt really attached to the characters, although Yoda grew on me. What did the prequels do for you?

Where does that leave me on the original trilogy? I suppose I’ll have to see them. And seeing how I’m still bed-bound, I’m sure Sean will have plenty of opportunity to foist them upon me. I am defenseless against The Force.