Tag Archives: Felicity Jones

The Midnight Sky

We meet scientist Augustine (George Clooney) on a very bad day for humanity. The inevitability that climate change has been predicting for years is finally here, and in the end, it goes so much more quickly than we ever imagined. Augustine works at an Arctic station that is being frantically evacuated on this particular day, people rushing home to be with loved ones as they wait to die, and in a matter of just days, they do. The toxic air will take a few days more to reach the Arctic, so Augustine stays behind, alone. At least he thinks he is until he discovers a little girl (Caoilinn Springall) who’s been left behind, but by the time she’s found, Augustine can no longer reach anyone else. These two may be the last humans alive on Earth.

BUT. There are 5 more humans still alive in space, astronauts that have been on a 2 year mission to assess a newly discovered planet for viability. And indeed it does appear to be the promised land, able to sustain human life. Except for everyone on Earth, it’s too late.

With his communications down, Augustine makes the difficult decision to try to reach another station. On foot. In the quickly melting, deteriorating Arctic landscape. Racing against toxic air. With a little girl in tow. Easy journey, you say? It is not. But Augustine’s got an urgent message for those aboard the starship: don’t come home. Turn back.

The five people aboard that starship are Sully (Felicity Jones), who is pregnant in space, her baby daddy and boss Adewole (David Oyelowo), plus Sanchez (Demián Bichir), Maya (Tiffany Boone), and Mitchell (Kyle Chandler), none of whom knew they were signing up to be the last earthlings/the ones who would need to repopulate humanity. What an awful burden to put on anyone, but it’s either that, or death. Which would you choose?

Sean didn’t love this movie because he found it cold, and I don’t think that’s just a temperature thing (although poor George had to limit takes to 1 minute, and use a hair dryer to thaw his eyelashes between takes). There’s no room in the movie for recriminations but thanks to a subtle and clever script by Mark L. Smith (based on Lily Brooks-Dalton’s book, Good Morning, Midnight), we know that Augustine is disgusted by humanity, by the fate we chose for ourselves. The movie very quickly divorces itself from Earth, which is over, and I can understand feeling untethered by that. I myself found it a fascinating corner of the human psyche to explore and discover.

Who are we at the end of the world? Augustine’s life’s work revolved around solving this problem, and now he’s watching it all come to naught. Were his sacrifices worth it? It is a powerful accounting of one’s life that takes place when it can be so starkly measured, and through flashbacks we sense that he’s feeling some regret. The astronauts too are facing a similar hardship. Imagine having come so close, having landed on a planet that could save humanity only to learn that they’re just a little too late. Oh, and that everything and everyone that they knew and loved are dead. And that they can never go home again, in every sense of the expression, that their fates now lie on a strange and unpopulated planet where, best case scenario, their kids will be committing incest for generations.

I love a movie like this that has me trying on so many different shoes to see how they feel. How it feels to fail on such a devastating scope. How it feels to actually face the extinction of the Earth, which seems like such a theoretical concept until the reality is burning in your lungs. And yet to also be in a place where guilt and regret no longer matter. Where not even grief and tears matter because we can only mourn what we have lost, or what we are leaving behind, and neither of those things apply when everything is blinking out at the same time. There are no legacies, no one to carry forward your story, everything will be forgotten, so none of it mattered.

Okay, I can sort of see why you might find this bleak. Yet I am choked with awe reconsidering it all again. George Clooney directs, and he correctly identifies that the end of the world will be markedly emotionless. We humans have no concept of an extinction level event. In 2049, when this movie takes place, we’ll have had – what, 70, 80 years? – of warning, and yet we still won’t see it coming, we still won’t be prepared, and we still won’t believe it until it’s too damn late. I can’t help but admire a movie that is willing to punch you in the gut like that.

The Midnight Sky streams on Netflix December 23rd.

TIFF19: The Aeronauts

James Glaisher (Eddie Redmayne) was a scientist and an aspiring meteorologist in a time when that field did not yet exist (1862, to be precise). So, he decided to invent it. To do that, he tapped balloon pilot Amelia Wren (Felicity Jones) (actually a balloon widow with a tragic backstory) to ascend toward the heavens, or at least beyond the clouds, in a historic balloon flight higher than any other.

Up they go, to dangerous heights. In the pursuit of science, Glaisher urges them higher still. With her husband’s death still fresh in her mind (and his blood perhaps still on her hands), Amelia prefers caution. Still, when they inevitably meet up with trouble, it is she who will save them both while he is basically just cargo, a useless man looking at his instruments.

It’s a dizzying and inspiring story, full of rah-rah, girls can do anything chutzpah that is of course completely fabricated. James Glaisher is in fact a real-life scientist, but the man who took him up in his balloon and ultimately saved his life was pioneer Henry Coxwell, who got written out of the story in order for these two The Theory of Everything costars to reunite. In truth, it is Amelia and not James who is the colour in the story. She is the one we naturally gravitate to. Would the story be as compelling without her?

Confusingly, IMDB lists the character as a Ms. Wren while the film itself seems to prefer Rennes. I suppose it doesn’t matter since she’s fictional, and perhaps it’s nearly fitting since Amelia is not just a fearless balloon pilot but a bit of a showgirl as well. Crowds have paid for the privilege of watching their launch, which funds their research, and she understands the value of putting on a bit of a show – which of course her stodgy scientist partner doesn’t get. He’s more into his pigeons, which he plans to throw from the balloon at different heights. The pigeons have no idea what’s in store for them.

The balloon ultimately reaches about 37 000 feet, which is roughly the cruising height of a jumbo jet. Up there, the air is cold, and there is less and less oxygen. Glaisher is the immediate victim, having brought along many thermometers but no warm clothes. For “authenticity,” director Tom Harper had Jones and Redmayne actually filming about 2000 feet in the air, which he captured via helicopter. In the olden days, an air balloon worked by 2 mechanisms. The basket was weighted with sandbags; to go higher, you let out some sand. To go lower, you let out some air. Today we have hot air balloons, which use fire to heat the air, and of course hot air rises. Allowing the air to cool means you drift down. I got to go up in a hot air balloon once. I am not overly fond of heights, or more specifically, of falling to my death from one, so I worried a lot about what the ascent would be like, and if I’d feel sick, or scared, and if the basket would bounce around, or if I’d have to hold on for dear life. In fact, the ascent was smooth, so utterly without event that I forgot to be scared at all and just completely enjoyed the ride. But then you have to get back down. That’s the part I’d failed to worry about, or even picture. And of course, that’s the bumpy part because the basket doesn’t just touch down gracefully, kissing the earth. It smacks it, hard, then jumps back up, then smacks down again, the basket getting drawn along jaggedly, thumping away while you assume the ‘crash’ position, huddled on its bottom, trying not to fall out.

There was something very satisfying about the movie, which is told within the framework of their historic 90 minute flight, with flashbacks telling the story of how they came to dance among the clouds together. Even from the sky, the film has a very strong sense of time and place. I was struck by the injustice of James presenting his findings to the Royal Society alone, because Amelia’s being female disqualified her from even being on the property. Of course since she never actually existed, the point is kind of moot, but their pairing does make for a very compelling story, and The Aeronauts are not exactly the first to embellish history in the service of better storytelling.

Rogue One

k-2so-in-star-wars-rogue-oneRogue One is the movie the prequels should have been. It is fresh, entertaining, and necessary. Rogue One’s humour works for adults as well as five year olds (though any self-aware Star Wars fan must acknowledge that the gap there for us is not all that wide). Rogue One links to what we’ve seen before in a way that feels natural and rewards fans who are familiar with every scene of the original trilogy, and leads into the known end point of A New Hope without any trouble whatsoever.

Rogue One is also a movie that could never have been made under George Lucas’ watch. I do not even want to imagine how he would have approached this story, but tonally Rogue One is entirely different than all the movies that have come before, and better for it. This is not a classic adventure serial, it is a war movie with high stakes, and we quickly realize that the stakes are appropriately high considering the evil dictatorship that runs the galaxy is constructing a superweapon to crush its opponents once and for all.rogue-one-cast-photo-d23-1536x864-521514304075-1

At the same time, Rogue One gives us the funniest character of any Star Wars movie. Fittingly, it’s a robot. But where R2-D2 and BB-8 were funny in a sweet, childlike way, K2-SO is funny because he is an asshole. It’s fantastic and he is absolutely one of the best parts of this movie.

Felicity Jones is great as well as the leader of the motley crew trying to save the galaxy. Her team (and the movie as a whole) is refreshingly diverse. Though this welcome injection of diversity is, on a meta-level, unintentionally remiciscent of South Park’s Operation Human Shield, since the multi-ethnic team is the one on the suicide mission while the all-white crew from A New Hope is (or soon will be) galavanting around in the fastest, most indestructible ship in the galaxy.

Rogue One has some cheesy parts that took me out of the flow a bit, but Jay rightly pointed out that I should expect nothing different from a Star Wars film. The end result is a movie that orson-krennic_4c6477e2occasionally feels like an awkward mix of serious war movie and hopeful space odyssey, but only rarely did I have that feeling. It definitely did not ruin the movie for me and that Star Wars feel is an overwhelming positive overall (especially an amazing Darth Vader scene during the climax that shows us the power we always knew he had).

My only other complaint is the use of CG to add a few familiar faces to the film. I found it distracting and yet I also thought it was kind of a nice tribute to one of the great characters from A New Hope. Maybe we’re just not quite there on the FX front but we are incredibly close.

This is a worthy addition to the Star Wars universe. If you’re at all a fan you should see it, but if you’re at all a fan you probably already have! Rogue One gets a score of eight May the Force be With Yous out of ten.

 

 

TIFF: The Rest

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Carrie Pilby

Awkward, isolated and disapproving of most of the people around her, a precocious 19 year-old genius is challenged to put her convictions to the test by venturing out on to the NYC dating scene, in this adaptation of Caren Lissner’s best-selling 2003  novel.

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I was especially excited about the world premiere of director Susan Johnson’s debut feature because I knew I would get to share the experience with my parents. I also liked the sound of Carrie as described by the TIFF website. I’ve always enjoyed unlikeable characters who become easier to empathize with once we get to know them.

As it turns out, Carrie Pilby isn’t nearly as misanthropic or as unsympathetic as the website would have you believe. In fact, when played by Diary of a Teenage Girl’s Bel Powley, she’s actually quite charming. She may be a little too sarcastic for her own good but she’s never mean and her posture suggests such obvious vulnerability that you may just want to give her a hug.

You may find Carrie’s exasperation with those around her easy to relate to considering the unforgivably forgettable supporting cast. Nathan Lane and Gabriel Byrne phone in their performances as her therapist and father and potential love interest Jason Ritter finds a way to make sleazy seem boring. Only Saturday Night Live’s Vanessa Bayer, who I was pleasantly surprised to see at the premiere, holds her own against Powley as Carrie’s co-worker and new friend.

In the end, the script is nowhere near as smart as Carrie is. Though it offers a number of big laughs and some seriously sweet moments, the dialogue is way too obvious most of the time. I found I was able to anticipate line after line almost as if I was dreaming the film into existence myself.

 

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Headshot

The indomitable Iko Uwais (The Raid) stars in this fast and furious actioner as an amnesiac whose mysterious past as a killing machine comes to the fore when he takes on the henchmen of a vengeful drug lord.

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I ended my first night at TIFF 2016 the best way I know how- with my annual Midnight Madness screening. You never know what you’re in for with the Midnight Madness program but this year I felt like I was in good hands. Back in 2011, I caught a midnight screening of The Raid at the festival and I was so exhilarated by the experienced that I’ve made sure to catch at least one midnight film each year. No matter how many bad movies I have to sit through.

The Raid isn’t just a bloody good time. It’s actually an impressive film. There isn’t a wasted moment in the whole movie and every shot serves to build suspense. This combined with outstanding fight choreography and a less-is-more approach to dialogue make The Raid one of the best action films so far this century.

The Raid works in large part because of director Gareth Evans who I really wish was directing Headshot. The latest vehicle for Indonesian martial arts superstar Iko Uwais is nowhere near as tense or as tightly edited. Not that directors Kimo Stamboel and Timo Tjahjanto do badly. They do an admirable job of capturing every chase and fight so that we always know who’s kicking who. But there’s something missing. Maybe it’s that The Raid managed to avoid the kind of silliness that Headshot has so much of (amnesia, for example, not to mention a sometimes corny love story).

That being said, Uwais’ hands, feet, elbows, and whatever else he can find always connect like they’re supposed to and Headshot manages to outgore The Raid. Friday’s Midnight Madness crowd seemed to have a good time and if you don’t mind a few heads being split open I’m sure you will too.

 

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A Monster Calls

Liam Neeson, Sigourney Weaver and Felicity Jones star in this adaptation of the award-winning children’s book by Patrick Ness, about a lonely young boy struggling with the imminent death of his terminally ill mother who is befriended by a friendly, shambling monster that arrives in his room nightly to tell him stories.

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I read on Wikipedia that Toronto’s Roy Thomson Hall holds over 2,300 people. I am quite sure that on Saturday afternoon I heard 2,000 cry. I could hardly stop myself from crying through the final moments of the latest film from director J. A. Bayona (The Impossible) and didn’t do much better through the closing credits or walking down King Street after.

I was surprised by my emotional reaction given that I was finding most of the film disappointingly uninspired. As much as I loved the design of the monster and the outstanding voice work of the great Liam Neeson, I expected more wisdom from his stories (which are brought to life in lovely animation).

Only in the end do the monster’s lessons really become clear. As frustrated as the young boy is by the seemingly pointless stories at first, it becomes clear that he is being taught lessons unusually mature for a children’s story. I can think of several family films where a child has to learn to cope with the loss of a parent but I can hardly think of any that are less condescending and more painfully honest.

 

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Hello Destroyer

Jared Abrahamson (Fear the Walking Dead) plays a painfully shy but ruggedly capable enforcer on a minor-league hockey team who discovers the cutthroat nature of his locker-room “family” in the forceful first feature from Canadian director Kevan Funk.

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Tyson Burr (Abrahamson) may not be the star player of the Prince George Warriors but he’s an enforcer – the guy you can count on when the game gets rough. In one particularly rough game, Tyson puts someone in the hospital and soon sees how quickly his team, his coach, and the community at large can distance themselves in hopes of avoiding responsibility for the culture of violence that they helped to create.

When introducing the film on Saturday, Funk was quick to insist that Hello Destroyer is not intended as a commentary on Canada’s infamously violent national sport. He’s more concerned with violence in general and the social context around aggressive behavior. There’s very little hockey played onscreen and some fans of the sport may be disappointed by the slow pace of the film. I’ll admit to being frustrated as it slows down even more in the second half. (It was my third film of the day and I was starving). It’s only after the fantastic Q and A with Funk and the cast that I let it all sink in.

This is one tragic, hard-hitting, and beautifully acted film. It’s the kind of movie that gets better and better the more you think about it.

 

Oscars 2015: Best Actor and Actress

Finally, the Academy Awards for Best Actor and Best Actress. For most of us, this is the reason we stay up late through all the speeches from people we’ve never heard of, awkward presenters, and excrutiatingly unnecessary montages.

Best ActressTwo Days, One Night

Marion Cotillard- Two Days, One Night

Felicity Jones- The Theory of Everything

Rosamund Pike- Gone Girl

Julianne Moore- Still Alice

Reese Witherspoon- Wild

Best Actor. Best Actress. Best Picture. We wait all night for these Oscars and, once we’re finally there, it’s anti-climatic. There’s almost never any question as to who will take home the Oscar at the end of the night. “I just want to stay up to see who wins Best Actress” has become “I just want to stay up to see Julianne Moore win Best Actress”.

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All four of us here have predicted a win for Moore and so has pretty much everyone else. The inevitable may not be very exciting on live television where supposedly anything can happen but I won’t be a bit disappointed when she wins. I wrote at length about how good I thought she was in Still Alice (and in so many other things). It’s always gratifying to see the best performance be honoured, especially in cases like this where the performer has done good work for so long.

2014 may not have been a spectacular year for great roles for women but, now that I look at it, Moore’s competition isn’t half bad. I held out on commenting on this category because I was waiting for the chance to see Two Days, One Night which unfortunately didn’t come. Jay managed to see it and enjoyed the performance. I have no doub that Cotillard is amazing because she pretty much always is. She’s already won though in 2008 so the Academy won’t snub Moore to honour Cotillard a second time.

Gone Girl

I’ve seen Gone Girl twice and am still not enthusiastic about Rosamund Pike but I know a lot of people were. I know someone who boldly said that she was “guaranteed an Oscar” after seeing it for the first time. She won’t win but she deserves the nomination for getting such earnest support from so many, even if not from me. I can’t say that I’m much more excited about Felicity Jones, who did a very good job with a surprisingly good part. The Theory of Everything was almost as much about Jane Hawking as it was about Stephen but Eddie Redmayne seemed to overshadow her, probably because of the physical demands of his role.

Reese Witherspoon wasn’t quite as good in Wild as Moore was in Still Alice. Plus, she- like Cotillard- has won before. So she won’t win. But if the rules of your Oscar pool force you to pick anyone other than Moore, smart money would be on Reese. I was a big fan of this performance, even if not of Reese herself. She was believable in both working through her grief by using heroine and struggling through hiking the PCT. She never even seems concerned with looking cool while she does it.

Best Actor

Steve Carell- Foxcatcher

Bradley Cooper- American Snipergame

Benedict Cumberbatch- The Imitation Game

Michael Keaton- Birdman

Eddie Redmayne- The Theory of Everything

This is exciting. For once, I have no idea what’s going to happen. Luc and I have predicted a win for Michael Keaton and Jay and Sean are betting on Eddie Redmayne. I am not sure that any of us are confident though. It’s been a good year. It would be even better if Bradley Cooper’s nomination was replaced with either David Oyelowo for Selma or Timothy Spall for Mr. Turner. Bu still. A good year.

Even Cooper shouldn’t be ruled out completely. He managed to disappear behind that beard and that accent. When his character retreats within himself after his first tour in Iraq, Cooper seems to retreat even further into character. There are moments though, especially during the pre-Iraq scenes which I wish had been cut altogether, where he’s a little less than awesome. Maybe even a little miscast. Besides, American Sniper is by far the worst of the five films and that has to count for something.

How cool is it that Steve Carell has been nominated for an Oscar? His commitment to the character is even more complete than Cooper’s.  I’ll admit that he gets lots of help from the makeup department (also nominated) but the way du Pont moves, talk, and stares is all Carell and he nails it.

Cumberbatch. The movie’s not perfect but Cumberbatch nearly is. He doesn’t have to change his voice much or do an accent or anything like that but still manages to transform into the brilliant but socially inept Alan Turing just as much as Cooper or Carell disappeared into theirs. I’m a big fan of this performance.

Birdman script

Almost anything can happen here but it looks like it’s going to be between Keaton and theory of everythingRedmayne, two performances that are so different from one another that it’s almost impossible to judge one as better than the other. Keaton doesn’t change the way he moves or speaks as much as the other nomnees but his performance may be the most honest. Both Redmayne and Keaton have won several awards this season so it’s a tough race to call. I’m putting my money on Keaton there’s just no telling this year.

 

 

The Theory of Everything

Finally a movie that answers the age-old question: Does Stephen Hawking watch Dancing with the Stars?

Okay, no, it doesn’t answer that. But go ahead and assume yes.

More like, is Stephen Hawking kind of a dick?

You go into this movie knowing that, whatever else, there will be a sure thing on your ballet for this year’s Oscar pool: Eddie Redmayne has already won. You may be less prepared for the fact that at times this movie feels like a companion piece to Interstellar (and I mean that in a good way) and that when the lights come on during the end credits, you’ll be caught in a packed theatre with tears still wet on your face.

This movie is strikingly well-lit. I loved the lighting, the glow, it felt romantic, and helped you remember that in fact this is not so much a biopic as a love story between Dr Hawking and his first wife, Jane. Eddie Redmayne was fairly forgettable in Les Miserables but absolutely claims the screen in this role, capturing expressiveness even in stillness, and showcasing joy and wit not easily conveyed. Felicity Jones, as Jane, may take a back seat on paper, but her performance stands up every bit to his. It’s a subtle portrayal, but strong and sure. Stephen Hawking, the concept, the icon, belongs to us all, but Felicity Jones reminds us that he is a man, and once, he belonged just to her. And there’s so much vulnerability and heartbreak, as a couple once deeply in love are forced into the caretaker and reluctant patient role that chafes for both of them.

I haven’t read Jane Hawking’s book upon which this movie is based. She wrote an earlier one that was much less forgiving, painting Hawking as controlling and almost dictatorish, and you can kind of pick up hints of that even in this second, gentler version, his manipulation of events, his reluctance to express gratitude.

When Stephen and Jane are still a very young couple, Hawking’s father tries to warn her away, saying that this will not be a battle but rather a defeat. He’s wrong and he’s right. Because there is a battle. Stephen outlives the projection by 50 years (and counting). But love is simply not enough. We see love grow, and then wither. And so this movie works much better as a study of love’s ability to withstand challenges than as a traditional biopic. Because I have read A Brief History of Time, and though there are touches, this movie is really “science lite”. It glosses over some pretty major milestones if the measure is the man, and not his marriage. But this is not a story about the failure of marriage because even as it crumbles, it seems a triumph that it lasted at all, and certainly as long as it did.

I wondered what Marsh would make of this movie – he won an Oscar some time ago for his documentary, Man On Wire – but would his work translate? If this was anything other than a story of real, living people, of a living legend in fact, it would be less dazzling. Certainly we’ve got a couple of knock-out performances and some very pretty things to look at, period wise, and even a few well-timed chuckles and some gorgeous gothic backdrops, but pulled together, does it make a Best Picture? It’s hard to say, because of course this isn’t just another period romance, this is the Stephen Hawking story, or at least a piece of it, and it feels incomplete for having just skirted around the outside of his genius. The thing that makes him most remarkable is remarked upon the least, and that feels a bit hollow. I still liked this movie tremendously, and was moved by it, but I suppose I also mourn for the many missing pieces.