Tag Archives: Helen Mirren

Greenfingers

Colin Briggs catches a rare break in prison: he gets transfered to one of those mythical low-security, cushy prisons where there are no bars and the food is edible. Colin (Clive Owen) is too cool for it though. He refuses to bond with his elderly roommate Fergus, or to request interesting work. He pulls toilet duty of course, but it’s not long before the warden saves him from himself and assigns him to gardening.

Colin doesn’t know manure from jackshit about gardening, but it’s better than toilets, so he takes lots of books out of the library and eventually works himself up into quite a passionate froth about flowers. The warden is so impressed by the gardening crew’s efforts and so is Georgina Woodhouse (Helen Mirren), who just happens to be the author of several of those books about gardening. Between them, they arrange for some work release – for the prisoners to leave the grounds and work on a9u47-ab73tb7ktr3-full-image_gallerybackground-en-us-1535774499460._ri_sx940_designing and planting gardens for wealthy clients. Their work is so renowned that they’re invited to participate in the Great British Gardening Show, which is not at all what it’s really called, but I forget the name and don’t care to look it up. Of course, they’re prisoners, and not everyone is open-minded about that.

It’s sort of nice to see a prison warden who believes in rehabilitation, and who treats his prisoners like human beings. This movie is apparently based on a true story; the inmates of Her Majesty’s Prison Leyhill actually did excel at gardening. And finding something that they’re good at, that they can be recognized and praised for, is clearly strengthening and healing for men who have otherwise such bleak futures. It wouldn’t have to be gardening of course, but it’s nice that it is because of course the contrast between delicate flowers and big burly murderers is pretty damn satisfying.

So much of British cinema is devoted to this formula: the underdog triumphing over adversity. You root for the prisoners of course, but you won’t get overly invested because the characters aren’t that knowable, and everyone besides Colin is pretty much just petunias (haha, that’s a gardening joke for “filler”). It’s meant, of course, to be charming and up-lifting, but it’s actually quite bland and manages only mild mediocrity. Worth checking out if you miss Clive Owen’s mug, or if you have a thing for Helen Mirren in oversized floral hats, but otherwise fit for the pruning pile.

Advertisements

Winchester

As a widow, Sarah Winchester has inherited majority share of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company. The other stakeholders get together to hire laudanum-addicted Dr. Price to assess her and find her incompetent to run their business. It shouldn’t be too hard: she’s a crazy, reclusive old lady who is constantly remodelling her home, round the clock, to better suit the ghosts and spirits who inhabit it.

It sounds bad on paper, but once Dr. Price (Jason Clarke) arrives, he starts to share in her hallucinations. Sarah Winchester (Helen Mirren) was a real person, and she really did believe that anyone killed by one of her guns may visit her home in death – seeking revenge or otherwise – and it was her duty to house them and try to find them peace. To appease them, she employed a work crew, round the clock, day and night, 7 days a week for 37 years, until her death, building new rooms, tearing down old ones, resulting in a 7-story house with more than 100 rooms, staircases that led nowhere, and twisty, unnavigable hallways. But some ghosts were not content with her efforts. Some ghosts demanded more.

I have no problem with the cast, and as you might guess, Helen Mirren is of course a gothic gem. But this movie was all wrong. All wrong. It should never have been a horror film. This is actually a very interesting story that deserved a much better treatment. Sarah Winchester is the kind of character you instinctively want to learn MV5BYmQ0YTZjNzctNWI0MS00ODBlLTk3YjUtZTUwMGY0MjM1N2FjXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjEwNTM2Mzc@._V1_SY1000_SX1500_AL_more about, but this movie would have you on Wikipedia rather than provide her any backstory or context. Instead the house is the most compelling character, and all the walking, talking, sentient characters, both alive and dead, are badly neglected. But even the house sort of loses its charms after the film makers’ limited imagination is maxed out. It just feels like all directors Michael Spierig and Peter Spierig are concerned with is shoving as many jump-scares into one movie as humanly, or demonly, possible. And it’s a lot. There will be something terrifying in EVERY corner, in every mirror and reflection, under every bed, in every attic, behind the curtains, and inside the body of every ginger man and boy. They’ve used a very interesting story as the mere setting, and then completely spoiled it with misuse.

Winchester needed to be a drama with supernatural elements, like Sixth Sense, but instead it’s bottom of the barrel horror. I was prepared to be frightened by it (Sean and I even “worked up” to it by viewing Peter Rabbit first) but I wasn’t expecting to pity it, and it’s hard to sustain suspense for a thing you feel sorry for. And I felt bad for Helen Mirren, who would be too good for the tripe even if she herself were a long-dead ghost merely haunting the set. The good news, though, is that she looks terrific in a widow’s mourning veil, so let’s get her in a Guillermo del Toro film, stat!

The Leisure Seeker

This movie is about a couple of charming runaways on the lam. They haven’t committed any crimes but they’re keen to evade the responsibilities that weigh on them at home. We’ve seen lots of movies about people on the open road, but we’ve rarely seen a man beleaguered by Alzheimer’s helming a large winnebago while his cancer-stricken wife navigates and their adult children are panicking at home.

Ella (Helen Mirren) should be in the hospital receiving treatment, but instead she’s choosing this one last hurrah before Alzheimer’s has her husband John (Donald Sutherland) completely within its clutches. The Leisure Seeker is the name of their the-leisure-seekerbeloved RV, and this road trip is designed to trigger memories of happier times – their young family at play, their former selves in love. It’s obvious that the ‘in love’ part has never really faded for Ella and John, and maybe this is why it’s so hard for her to cope when he can’t remember who she is.

The pair hit the interstate armed with pecan logs, slides of old photos, and yes, a gun. This film is a moving eulogy to all the things that are slipping away – not just for John and Ella personally, but also perhaps on a more national scale (like a sense of community for one – though attempts to be any more political feel out of place). But as John’s moments of lucidity grow shorter and Ella’s anguish grows deeper. The Leisure Seeker is pointed toward Florida but we can’t deny what they’re truly headed for.

Mirren and Sutherland make the movie of course – the camera rarely strays from this couple so strongly bonded they can’t even bear to sleep in separate beds. Sutherland spins the dial on the many shades of dementia, his face quietly registering all of them. Mirren wears a cheerful mask but Ella’s pain and smouldering anger never disappear completely. This Brit and her Canadian costar make watching this American road trip movie worth while – even if their Italian director doesn’t quite get it right. The acting, however, is everything, and the casting is spot-on even if Mirren is inconsistent with her southern accent. Just as we’re meeting them, they’re getting ready to say their goodbyes. This is a bittersweet journey, and you’re welcome to tag along. You can leave your gun at home, but do pack some tissues.

Collateral Beauty

collateral-beauty-trailerWhile searching for Will Smith’s filmography, I was surprised to see the pleasure with which critics are tearing this movie apart. The reason I was looking for Smith’s info was to try to figure out whether Collateral Beauty is his best dramatic performance (and I quickly realized that since I haven’t seen Ali, I’m disqualified from weighing in on that topic). With that lead-in, it probably goes without saying that I again think it’s been too long since the critics were thrown a juicy morsel, they’re searching for anything to bite down on as a result, and Collateral Beauty has been flagged as an easy target.

Collateral Beauty is not a great movie by any means, but it’s very watchable for several reasons. First, Smith reminds us that he can hold his own against anyone, no matter how many Oscar nominations/wins they may have (his co-stars in Collateral Beauty, Edward Norton, Kate Winslet, Helen Mirren and Keira Knightly, have two Oscar wins and countless nominations between them – incidentally, how does Michael Pena not have any yet?). Smith is consistently the most interesting person on screen even though for a significant portion of the movie he doesn’t say a word.

Second, there’s something undeniably watchable as the movie tries to take aim at cliches, even when it does so by using other cliches. Perhaps it’s just that the cliches that bother me the most were the ones under attack. I can’t really say any more without spoiling some of the characters’ arcs, so if you want more of a rant on that point then feel free to request more details in the comments section.

Third, I found out early on that I was wrong about how the movie’s plot would play out in a major way, which almost never happens nowadays due to the sheer number of trailers foisted on me (especially when half of them have no qualms about spoiling the best parts of the movie they’re promoting). On a related note, seeing a movie in Hawaii earlier this week was sobering because I think they showed every trailer currently in rotation. I am sure Canadian theatres will soon follow suit and it’s already too much here! Just let me watch the movie I paid for already.

Since I’ve started complaining (it never takes too long), it seems like a good time to talk about negatives from Collateral Beauty, and there are some significant ones.  The bigggest problem is that Smith’s character’s supposed friends treat him in the worst way imaginable during the worst time of his life, and it seems we are supposed to forgive them for it. The film attempts to make it easier for us to do that but its method requires a major swerve by Smith’s character that came too quickly to feel natural, as well as a twist that seemed too convenient a fix.

That same convenient fix also transformed the tertiary characters’ motivations from awful to divine and again the turn felt too abrupt. While it made thematic sense and actually tied the movie together well, the execution was too rough to be satisfying (and it also gave rise to a new (/old) complaint about the trailer that I can’t discuss without getting into spoilers so again, comment if you’re curious to hear more of a rant on this point).

All in all, Collateral Beauty is worth a watch and is definitely not deserving of the hatred it’s receiving from critics. It’s quite decent and gets bonus points for making me choke up a few times (something that doesn’t happen very often). Sure, it’s cheating a bit by focusing on death and loss, but Collateral Beauty is intended as a tearjerker and wholeheartedly embraces its nature. Is that such a bad thing? I don’t think so.

Collateral Beauty knows what it is and delivers exactly what you’d expect. If you’re in the mood for a sob story then this is your horse. I think riding this teary pony wore Jay out, though, so be prepared if you’re a real cryer like Jay as opposed to a robot who occasionally feels sad (which is the category Jay has put me in and I’ve really got no valid argument against it – beep-boop).

Collateral Beauty gets a score of six teary-eyed robots out of ten.

2016: Year of the Fabulous Ladies

Goodness me, this year is flying by, and looking back at some of my favourite films, I’m seeing a trend. A trend toward women of a certain age. Over 50, let’s say; the women who have often been ignored by Hollywood (more than half of all female characters are well under 40, which is not true of men). And yet here they are, fierce and fabulous. I’m resisting calling them “older women” (perhaps it’s time for a new word?) because they are so much more than merely older. These are terrific women giving voice to characters that are rarely seen, and heard even less (women are given less and less dialogue as they age whereas middle-aged men get more).

Aging is a sin in Hollywood. You go from playing the ingénue to someone’s mom, and then you drop off the face of the earth unless you’re Betty White. Which you’re not. Hollywood casts young women into older roles – Angelina Jolie once played Colin Farrell’s mother. She is one year older than he is. Amy Poehler played Rachel McAdams’ mother in Mean Girls despite only a 7 year age difference. Sally Field played Tom Hanks’ mother with just a decade between them – and having previously played his love interest! Toni Collette, aged 33, played Paul Dano’s mother when he was 22 (in Little Miss Sunshine). Laura Dern is just 9 years senior to her “daughter” Reese Witherspoon in Wild. Winona Ryder is just 5 years older than her Star Trek on-screen son, Zachary Quinto. That would be like Jonah Hill playing Miles Teller’s dad instead of his high school classmate. WTF?

All too many once-great actresses were abandoned by Hollywood when they hit 40. Where is Angela Bassett? Geena Davis? Joan Allen? Janet McTeer? We can’t save them all, but we vote with our dollars, by making sure that films like these find their audience:

Florence Foster Jenkins – Meryl Streep turns in an endearingly cringe-worthy performance. When she turned 40, she was offered THREE witch parts in the same year. THREE! She turned them all down.  “I just had a political sort of reaction against the concept of old women being 23F3E33000000578-2869426-image-a-28_1418262921292demonized and age being this horrifying, scary thing. I just didn’t like that. I didn’t like it when I was a little girl, I don’t like it now.”

Grandma – Lily Tomlin proves Grandmas come in all sorts of salty sizes. She’s as edgy and witty as ever. “I’ve been offered lots of [roles as] people’s grandmothers that are just the butt of a joke. Doddering with a track suit on. The object of humor, just as women or gay people were the object of humor through ridicule in earlier movies. That was an accepted target, use of someone of that age or that lifestyle.”

Eye in the Sky – Helen Mirren shows nerves of steel as the powerful head of a military operation. Mirren has called Hollywood’s ageist double standard “fucking outrageous.” “Even Shakespeare did that to us. As you get older, even the Shakespeare roles become [less substantial for older women] — that’s why we have to start stealing the men’s roles — doing like I did in “The Tempest,” [by changing the role of Prospero to] Prospera. And it’s great that a lot of women are doing Hamlet, doing “Henry V,” and I’m sure there will be a female Othello soon. And I love that. I think it’s absolutely great because, you know, why not?”

Youth – Jane Fonda has a small but scene-stealing role in this movie about finding meaning in your later years. “Ageism is alive and well. It is okay for men to get older, because men become more desirable by being powerful. With women, it’s all about how we look. Men are very visual, they want young women. So, for us, it’s all about trying to stay young. I need to work, so I had some plastic surgery. It’s not like it’s too much, it’s not like you can’t see my wrinkles, right? But I think it probably bought me a decade of work.”

Lady in the Van – Maggie Smith gives life and dignity to a mysterious woman living in her van. “I’m always older than God in these parts now.” She played Wendy’s 92 year old grandmother in Steven Spielberg’s Hook and “I’ve been that ever since. They don’t need to make me up any more, I’m afraid. I’ve caught up with myself.”

I’ll See You In My Dreams – Blythe Danner tackles widowhood, retirement, and loneliness. “I remember Leslie Caron years ago saying she left Hollywood when she was 30 or 35 because that’s when roles disappear. That’s not the case anymore, there are better, three-dimensional roles for women of all ages. I’m 71 and I’ve been working more now and getting better roles than I did when I was younger.”

mary-todd-sally-field-lincolnHello My Name Is Doris – a riotous movie starring Sally Field, her first starring role in nearly 20 years. “They don’t write roles for women… and they certainly don’t write roles for women of age and women of color,” said Field. “Since the industry is run by men, men have a tendency to want to make stories about themselves and things they identify with. Then it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

Trumbo

I thought the screenplay for Trumbo was witty and full of verve, but it’s got to be hard to write about one of the most talented trumbo-still-959x640screenwriters out there because the comparisons are inevitable and I must admit that Dalton Trumbo would have produced something tighter, and more energetic – something more like the man himself.

Dalton Trumbo was a successful screenwriter in Hollywood in the 1940s who also had some lofty ideals for bettering his beloved country that led him to join the Communist Party. But as we approached the 1950s, and the cold war between the Soviets and the USA deepened, people confused criticism for treachery. Trumbo and a bunch of people besides were brought up before Congress to account for their ‘unAmerican activities’ and even though Americans supposedly believed in free speech and democracy, they were sent to jail if they refused to rat on their friends.

Hollywood crumbled under pressure and refused to work with known (or suspected) “Commies”, and suddenly these people no file_611801_trumbo-picture-2-640x427longer had means to support their families. But Dalton Trumbo fought back: he undermined the black list by writing around it, submitted manuscripts under pen names, and continued to employ a lot of unemployable men.

Bryan Cranston plays Trumbo. No, Bryan Cranston IS Trumbo. His performance is so solid it never flags, even when the script slips down some dubious roads. Diane Lane and Elle Fanning play his wife and daughter and add a needed dimensionality to the character and his motivations, though I still feel that maybe we needed to spend more time with this interesting man’s inner life. Director Jay Roach seemBryanCranstonHelenMirrenTrumboed to keep things a little superficial, over-relying on his leading man’s ability to keep the motor running. Actually, the entirety of the supporting cast are lending enormous talent: Michael Stuhlbarg, John Goodman, Alan Tudyk, Louis CK, and let me not forget Helen Mirren who does a fabulous turn as a witch-hunting bitch. You can see how much fun she’s having playing such a rotten person.

I think the film is highly enjoyable, and Cranston will never be outTrumboed. That said, I think Roach left the door open for a better film to be made on the subject matter, because I found it very light on the politics, very light on the ethics, and really more of a mischievous caper as Trumbo fights to get a workaround for his career. And maybe that’s because this movie is such a departure for Roach, who has never directed outside the comedy genre before, and is best known for the Austin Powers and Meet the Parents franchises: not exactly heady, probing stuff.

Still, I recommend this without reservations. It’s interesting and eminently well-acted, and Cranston is just a tonne of fun to watch.

A Farewell to Helen Mirren’s Fabulous Tits

helen-mirren-looking-hot-with-breasts-showing-in-tight-corsetHelen Mirren, the 70-year-old British bombshell, has announced that her breasts have gone into retirement. No  more nude scenes, no more topless shots – “My pleasure pillows are purely for my husband now.”

 

Helen’s boobies first appeared to us in 1969’s Age of Consent and as recently as a 2010 (nude) photo shoot for New York magazine. helen_mirren_nudeThey were also featured in a 2011 SNL skit entitled “Helen Mirren’s Magical Bosom.”

“Well, I didn’t know my boobs were legendary, quite honestly, at that point,” she told Alan Cumming in a recent interview, seemingly halfway between flattered and embarrassed.

Now, as often as I might cringe when a woman takes her top off in the movies (because why? Is this really necessary? Is this even nice?), I have no problem imagining that every single time Helen did it, it was from a tumblr_mzz0ttsMmA1tr4owso1_500position of power. The woman, and her cleavage, are feminist icons.

In fact, you may note that she achieved Damehood from the Queen, in the Order of the British Empire for services to the performing arts in 2003, the same year she appeared topless in Calendar Girls. Coincidence?mirrencalendar

Helen Mirren is gorgeous at any age, but her confidence and sassiness in her 70-year-old skin is what makes her sexy, and damn is she sexy.