Tag Archives: Gugu Mbatha-Raw

A Wrinkle in Time

This movie came out when I was in Austin, Texas seeing a billion movies at SXSW, and even so, I still considered taking a time out just to see another movie, one that was just hitting theatres. I never made it to A Wrinkle In Time then, but I finally got around to it this weekend, and I wasn’t the only one: our cinema was packed on Easter Monday, and I was pleased to note how many families were in attendance.

For those of you who haven’t read the book (by Madeleine L’Engle), A Wrinkle In Time is about a young girl named Meg – troubled at school, grieving at home. Her parents are both brilliant scientists, or were – her father disappeared years ago while MV5BNzhkYzRlNzUtNzFhNy00MzllLWFkZGEtNDg0ZTE0YTYzOWNjXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMjk3NTUyOTc@._V1_working on a theory about a tesseract, which would involve “wrinkling” time and space in order to travel through it. One dark and stormy night, a mysterious woman named Mrs. Whatsit appears to tell Meg, her friend Calvin, and Meg’s little brother Charles Wallace, the child genius, that she has heard her father calling out to them through the universe. Turns out, Mrs. Whatsit and her friends Mrs. Who and Mrs. Which are supernatural beings prepared to engage in a rescue mission.

The book was repeatedly rejected – possibly because it was a work of science fiction with a young, female protagonist, and possibly because it asked a lot from its young readers. Not only does it use physics and philosophy as basic concepts, it directly tackles the nature of evil, and pits children against it. The movie, too, follows in its footsteps, embracing what made the novel so special and unique, proudly displaying the magic AND the science, and trusting a young audience to appreciate them both. If anything the movie is a little too ambitious – though I quite enjoyed it, I did, in the end, have the sense that parts of it were quite condensed.

Director Ava du Vernay gets the casting exactly right: Storm Reid as Meg is what we want every 13 year old girl to be – smart and strong and curious and cautious. Her determination in the face of her fear and vulnerability make her an exceedingly compelling character. She may at times be insecure but her love and loyalty toward family see her through difficult times. But of course it’s the larger than life characters that Meg meets that give the story so much colour. The Mrs. Ws are particularly enchanting, and I cannot imagine a more satisfying trio than Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling, and Oprah, large and in charge.

At just under 2 hours, the movie does unfortunately lose some of the detail that MV5BMTU5Njg0NTA0MF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwOTgwNDU4NDM@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,929_AL_make the book wonderful, but it also paints a fantastic picture that I cannot stop myself from going back to in my mind. The visuals are exotic and beautiful and the world-building just divine. I can only guess at the kind of impression it makes on young imaginations.

Though the movie has some flaws, its themes are just as courageous and necessary today as they were when the book was first published in 1962. Light vs darkness, good triumphing over evil, and the only real weapon used is love. It’s also got a (somewhat diluted) message against conformity; Meg has to embrace her flaws in order to win the day.

See this movie with a child’s wonder and you will be delighted. Adapting this book was always going to be difficult, and the worst thing it does, necessarily, is rob us of the opportunity to do some of the imagining for ourselves. But in committing to the visuals, Ava du Vernay does the source material more than justice. She gives us a film full of hope and bravery, and shows little girls everywhere that they too can be the heroes of their own stories.

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SXSW: Fast Color

fast-color-116514Julia Hart, the director and co-writer of Fast Color, almost had me fooled.  She introduced Fast Color to the SXSW crowd as a story about motherhood, and in a way that’s true.  Of course, in a way it is also true that the original Superman comics are about the experiences of Jewish immigrants.  I mention Superman because both Fast Color and Superman use superheroes to tell their stories, although the movies’ respective approaches to the genre are worlds apart.

Fast Color might be best described as a near-future quest for redemption, as Ruth (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) tries to stay one step ahead of her pursuers in the harsh wasteland that the midwestern United States has become due to a prolonged drought. Plot-wise, that’s all you’re getting from me, so you’ll have to watch the film to see how deep the rabbit hole goes.

I hope one day we won’t need to make the case for inclusion, but since we’re not there yet, Fast Color is more proof that diversity in film generates powerful, original, thought-provoking movies. Fast Color possesses all those qualities and a big reason why is because it is a story about women told by women. It is the kind of movie that we need (and deserve) more of. It is the kind of movie that helps us see things from a different perspective and realize that we are made stronger, not weaker, by our differences.

Fast Color is yet another SXSW surprise, a movie that we lucked into by virtue of scheduling and one that I urge you to keep an eye out for. It does not currently have a release date but hopefully a strong SXSW showing will change that, as this is a movie that deserves to be seen.

Irreplaceable You

As a little girl, Abbie knows what she wants, and she goes out and bites it. That’ll make sense when you watch the movie. What Abbie wants is Sam, and they’ve been together since they were 8. They’re extremely until-death-do-us-part, headed toward marriage and newly pregnant, except they find out what she’s pregnant with is a belly full of tumours, and she’s going to die, soon.

Abbie’s (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) last days are preoccupied with finding Sam (Michiel Huisman) a new partner. She’s grieving, she’s preparing, she wants to leave him settled, imageshe wants to know that he’ll be okay. But it’s creepy and invasive and neither Sam nor his prospective dates are super into this idea. Even Abbie’s support group is pretty skeptical. They’re also a pretty good source of humour in a movie that may have been overwhelmed by its maudlin theme. Thankfully the likes of Steve Coogan, Kate McKinnon, and Christopher Walken, all favourites of mine that I never dreamed would somehow end up sitting in the same little circle in the same film, go a long way to providing some comic relief.

The script, by Bess Wohl, is kind of terrific. There are lots of unexpected little nuggets of joy, such as the wonderful Merritt Wever’s truth bomb about the world’s only monogamous fish. Watch and learn. Frankly, I would have liked to see director Stephanie Laing push the film even further into black comedy territory. Instead its tone is confused and we’re never sure whether to laugh or weep (I had no problem doing copious amounts of both, but your experience may be different). On the whole, I liked this movie very much. I like Gugu Mbatha-Raw very much and she makes this character flawed instead of the saintly dead wife that almost any other movie would have made her out to be. Her character inhabits our worst fears while being relatable enough for us to confront them in some sort of comfort. Sure it’s tear-jerker porn, but it’s the best kind as long as you have plenty of soft, name-brand tissues to see you through.

The Whole Truth

It’s possible that if Keanu doesn’t play a lawyer at least once per decade he’ll die. That’s the only reason I can think of to explain his casting as a lawyer ever, because he’s barely credible as the sandwich guy who delivers lunch to law firms.

hero_TheWholeTruth-2016-1In The Whole Truth, Keanu does indeed play a lawyer who is defending the son of a former colleague and longtime friend. The son is accused of killing his father, that very same former colleague and longtime friend. I’m sure Keanu would like to believe that his client is innocent, but his client isn’t talking. And his client’s mother (Renee Zellweger) is mostly weeping, and begging Keanu to save her son’s life.

Gugu Mbatha-Raw, who is above this material, plays a lawyer assigned to help Keanu, and be less of a dick in the courtroom than he is, which is a role that could have been fulfilled by Andy Dick or Jeremy Piven or goddamned Jim Belushi, who was actually busy playing the murder victim, but you catch my drift. It wasn’t a high bar.

Anyway. It’s derivative. It’s one of those “unravel the plot” movies probably based on a mystery novel only sold in drug stores. When “the whole truth” is finally revealed, you probably won’t be around to hear it, having already changed the channel, and you certainly won’t give a shit. The ending isn’t earned, it doesn’t pack a punch, it’s just a fart in the wind (is that a saying?).

I’m dubious, Keanu.

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.

Free State of Jones

Newton Knight (Matthew McConaughey) is a poor man fighting a rich man’s war, and he knows it. The rich men have cleverly saved themselves from war by enacting the 20 Negro Law, which exempts any man who owns 20 slaves. Nice loophole. Knight is less than pleased. When a very young recruit is gunned down beside him, he straps the body to a horse and sets off to return the boy to his mother for burial. The only problem is, this act stinks of desertion to everyone that matters.

Not content with hiding out, Knight (a real historical figure) instead founds free-state-of-jonesthe “free state of Jones”, made up of deserters, runaway slaves, and women, and they start their own mini rebellion against the corrupt Confederates in charge. The soldiers have been raiding local homes, taking their “10%” (more like 90), but leaving large plantations untouched. These people aren’t exactly hard to convince which side will benefit them most.

Free State of Jones is graphic from the get-go, but if you can survive the first two or three minutes, the worst of the gore is over. It helps to establish how bloody and senseless this war is (the civil war, if that’s not clear): no matter how perfectly rhythmic the marching, it doesn’t stop you from getting mowed down. Director Gary Ross also tries to give the film some context by intercutting the main story with courtroom snippets of a case against a man 1\8th negro, a coloured person in the eyes of the law, who thus is not allowed to be married to his white wife. I didn’t care for the splicing but came to appreciate it by the end.

This is absolutely a brilliant and worthy piece of history but it’s not quite done right by Free State of Jones. The movie’s well over 2 hours but feels as though FREE STATE OF JONESit lollygags from scene to scene, dwelling in weird places, then rushing through others. Perhaps Ross has simply bitten off more than he can chew, but you can see his good intentions shine through. What we need, though, is passion. It’s sadly lacking here. Even McConaughey’s strong performance is muddied by the white saviour characterization: Knight was a much more divisive figure.

I enjoyed this movie but was frustrated by its limitations. I would have liked to have seen more of Rachel, played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw, who I think is spectacular but criminally underused in this film. I wouldn’t stop anyone from watching Free State of Jones, but I am endeavouring to temper your expectations. The civil war has many stories to tell, but they aren’t just historical ones. There are a lot of modern consequences, enough to give you shivers.

Concussion

Concussion makes you sick with guilt for being an NFL fan.  As the movie unfolds, the names and stories of these tormented souls bring back memories of news articles you’ve read, and you know that even if some of the details are fictionalized, all the important ones are true.  And even though Sony’s leaked emails reveal they toned down the movie to avoid kicking the “hornet’s nest” that is the National Football League, the watered down version is horrifying enough.  Concussion makes you feel dirty for ever having watched a Super Bowl, let alone having bought a ticket, because involvement as a fan means you actively contributed to the destruction of so many lives.

Mike Webster really died in his pickup truck.  Justin Strezelczyk really died in a fiery crash because he drove into oncoming traffic while being chased by the police.  Terry Long really drank antifreeze.  Andre Waters really shot himself in the head.  Dave Duerson really was an NFLPA executive who fatally shot himself in the chest so he could

US PRESSWIRE Sports Archive-Historical

The real-life Mike Webster.  RIP.

donate his brain to science (and Junior Seau really did the same).  All of these former players were 50 or younger when they died.  All have been diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), which is a degenerative brain disease that causes symptoms of dementia including memory loss, aggression, confusion and depression.  The scariest thing is that these are just a few of the former players who have died from CTE, or are living with CTE-like symptoms (a CTE diagnosis cannot be confirmed until after death), and there are thousands more who almost surely are living with the same symptoms and/or other neurological conditions like Lou Gehrig’s disease, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s or dementia.

That alone would have been enough for Concussion to make me uncomfortable but a personal connection made these issues all too real.  Growing up, I was a good athlete but my brother Bryan was better.  He was good enough to be playing both basketball and rugby on provincial teams at age 16, and then it was time to make a choice.  He chose rugby because he loved hitting people (which makes sense because he’s kind of an asshole too).  Focusing on rugby made him even better at it, and after high school he went out west to play for the Canadian junior national team.

And then everything went south in a huge way.  His first concussion was well in the past, suffered at age 14 while playing quarterback.  We didn’t think of it at the time but as the hits piled up, every big hit hurt him more and took him longer to recover from.  By the time he was playing national-level rugby, and getting hammered repeatedly by other 6’5″, 240 pound monsters like himself, he was also experiencing blackouts, memory loss, chronic pain and who knows what else.  When he came to at the top of a mountain and had no idea how he had gotten there (turns out he ran the mile from his house then continued all the way to the top), it was a rude awakening in more ways than one.  That was the end of his rugby career but only the beginning of his suffering.  He lost years to pain, headaches, and nausea, he lost his desired career as a firefighter, and he almost lost himself.

Bryan’s story has taken a better turn lately, as he has found treatments and medications that help him manage his pain and live his life. But for me, Concussion was a terrifying reminder that Bryan could have been Mike Webster.  He may still be.  Bryan’s only 36, which is how old Justin Strezelczyk was when he drove into a tanker truck.  Mike Webster was still playing football at 36, so 50 is still a long way off for Bryan and countless others.

Will Smith is decent in the role of Dr. Bennet Omalu, the coroner who autopsied Mike Webster and brought a lot of these issues to light after so many years of darkness and denial.  His accent is not as distracting as in the trailer but I couldn’t escape the feeling that the script was designed to include the phrases that Smith was better at saying in an African accent (“Tell the truth.  Tell the truth!”).  The same accent probably would have been more palatable coming from an unknown actor but does this movie get made or seen if Will Smith isn’t starring?  So while I probably wouldn’t have nominated him for a Golden Globe, I can see how he got one.  He is obviously trying here and maybe that was the problem for me.  In my view Albert Brooks (as Dr. Omalu’s mentor) and Gugu Mbatha-Raw (as his wife) both gave better performances than Smith.

Concussion makes sure to note the similarity between the NFL’s treatment of concussions and big tobacco’s treatment of cancer, and the comparisons are apt.  They still ring true, especially when the class action settlement between the NFL and 4,500 former players was conditional on the NFL never having to admit what it knew about the danger of concussions, or how long it’s known.  It’s easy to read between the lines.

The hits these players took (and gave) are going to kill many of them.  And we watched and cheered.  For me, Concussion made me realize that I’m long overdue to stop cheering and stop pretending that any of this is okay.

For that, I’m glad I saw Concussion.  I’m not sure the movie works as well as it should, because it seemed at times to soften its message in an effort to not seem too preachy.  I’m thinking particularly of a speech Smith’s character gives where he says he doesn’t hate football after being persecuted by the NFL for his research, which to me rang false.  Still, despite that scene and a few similar missteps, Concussion got to me and made me think, and that’s worth something.

Concussion gets a score of seven (six for the touchdown and one for the PAT) out of ten.