Tag Archives: Jamie Bell

Rocketman

Elton John has had a life full enough to fill many biopics, but Rocketman shines its spotlight on his most troubled years, as he shot to success and earned the world’s respect and adoration but struggled to know and love himself.

Little Reggie Dwight was a brilliant but shy piano player. His parents were by times abusive and neglectful in their own unique ways, and he retreated into the safe space created by music. As a young man, the self-styled Elton (Taron Egerton) could compose music easily but the lyrics came hard. So his meeting Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell) was a special gift from the universe – together, they wrote pop songs that would change and infect the world with catchy, raucous tunes.

Elton developed an on-stage persona that was larger than life: in costume he could be brave, and better still, he could be merry. He could play for thousands despite being torn up inside by grief and self-doubt. He was tormented by the possibility that he would never truly be loved – this, even as he continued to seek the approval from parents who could never give it to him, and affection from a man who would use and abuse him.

Rocketman chronicles both the highs and lows of Elton’s life, whether plumbing the depths of his despair in group therapy or lifting an entire audience off its feet – this latter shown quite literally through the magic of cinema. These fantastical elements really elevate the material beyond the standard biopic and help establish a sense of the unreal. In other parts, the film’s a little draggy, and though his unhappiness is obviously a recurrent theme in his life, I wish it was a little less returned to in the film.

The monstrously successful, deeply conflicted, young, gay addict Elton is brought to life on the big screen by Taron Egerton, doing all his own singing, dancing, wallowing, and dazzling. He may not be his physical twin, but he embodies his spirit and he nails his tight-lipped grin. He manages both the bravura and the pathos, and nails them both.

Director Dexter Fletcher’s Rocketman is a bedazzled piece of inventiveness and daring. The movie truly thrills when he embraces his creative vision, translating the highest of emotions into visual delights that pair amazingly well with songs we still want to sing along to. While it’s by no means an exhaustive list of his hits, the movie folds them into itself with purpose and delight. It’s easy to get swept along by this engaging, vulnerable, triumphant story.

Advertisements

Snowpiercer

Thank you, Snowpiercer, for giving me a Bong Joon-ho movie that I can watch! Bong is such a talented director that it made a wimp like me try (and fail) to watch The Host. But not only is Snowpiercer his first English-language movie, it’s also accessible to jerks like me. Which is not to say it isn’t scary because intellectually, it’s nasty as hell. It’s not horror so much as dystopia, and the scariest thing of all is how soon it’s set: 2014. Well, technically the main action is taking place in 2031 or thereabouts, but basically in 2014 humans tried to repair some of the damage we’ve done to the climate and it went disastrously wrong. The earth froze over, so a very select few were chosen to fight for survival on a perpetually moving train. The train has elite passengers at the front, living in luxury, and the unwashed masses are crammed in at the back, living in filth and poverty and darkness.

Mason (Tilda Swinton), the train’s disciplinarian, doles out some very harsh punishments to those who step out of their lane. But there are serious rumblings coming from the back of the train – Curtis (Chris Evans) is the reluctant leader of a rebellion. Soon he and others (Jamie Bell, Song Kang-ho Song, Octavia Spencer, Asung Ko) will make a violent push toward the front, but as usual, the haves will never make it easy for the have-nots.

The film, based on a graphic novel, is a brilliant commentary on class warfare. But it’s not just a matter of class, or economics. It smacks of Marxism, but is tainted with Darwinism. The oblivious first class passengers see their station as right and just, pre-ordained even, and cluelessly talk about their own sacrifices. But ultimately, they are being controlled just as much as the proletariat in the back. The propaganda starts with the schoolchildren and never ends. Free will is an illusion carefully meted out by those in charge. So is hope, and that’s a pretty bitter pill to swallow.

The film’s momentum is as relentless as the rebellion. Once they start making their push toward the engine, the train itself is a revelation. Production made a 100m replica of the train, and each of the train’s cars is wilder than the last, each more breathtaking, each scattered with clues. And the view outside the train’s windows of the frozen wasteland of earth is strangely beautiful, almost mesmerizing – it’s both serene in its tranquility and violent as the train continues to punch through the continually forming ice and snow. Bong tends to shoot the action with the tail section toward the left of the screen and the engine toward the right, so you always get the sensation that things are moving. It’s a really cool way to orient the audience and keep things pressing forward.

Tilda Swinton gives one of the most compelling and bizarre performances of her career, and if you know Swinton’s body of work at all, you know what a tall, broad drink of water that statement is. Bong Joon-ho originally wrote the part of Mason with John C. Reilly in mind; at the time he was a much more peaceful character. When Swinton landed the part, Bong changed the role but left in the male gender markers. Swinton wears glasses that were once her own – when Bong visited her at her home, he found them in her children’s dress up box, and insisted she wear them. Mason has a gold glinting tooth that is often visible, especially the more unhinged she (he?) becomes. She’s based the character on Margaret Thatcher, which is the funniest thing I’ve ever heard. Thatcher died the year this came out (2013) so I doubt she ever saw/heard of this unflattering ode, which may be for the best.

Chris Evans pursued the part even though Bong Joon-ho thought he was wrong for it. Bong thought he was simply too fit for a guy who’s been living in the cramped quarters of a dirty train compartment for the past 15 years, never seeing sunlight, subsisting on protein bars made of ground up insects. Evans was clearly persuasive and he’s clearly right for the part – Bong made it work by strategically using wardrobe and camera angles to downplay his physique.

The action sequences are other-worldly. You know which scene I’m going to talk about: a door slides open to reveal a car full of men wearing black fetish masks. Only they’re not here to have safe-word sex. They’re all holding hatchets. They’re here to murder you. In a deep, cleaving way. And then the lights go out. It’s dark like a nightmare and the axe battle is on. They pass up torches from the rear and that’s the only light lighting the scene, which is expertly done. Park Chan-wook serves as a producer and you can’t help but see Oldboy flavours in this scene. It’s spooky and tense and brutal.

Though the train’s engine is meant to be one of perpetual motion, lots of stuff inside the train is actually going extinct (like cigarettes, which will be missed). Life outside the train, however, may actually be returning. In the film’s final shot, the survivors’ sense of hope is buoyed by the sight of a polar bear, a sure sign that life on earth will continue. I think the choice of a polar bear is significant: our news feeds have been inundated with the sight of starved polar bears, of polar bears literally drowning because the ice is melting and swims between ice floes have become too long to sustain. Polar bears are a vulnerable, at-risk species. Snowpiercer’s healthy, satiated polar bear indicates that what they really need to thrive is the loss of their greatest threat: humanity.

TIFF18: Donnybrook

Earl, an ex-soldier, has a junkie wife and two kids and no legit way to make them a better life. The only thing he’s ever been good at is fighting, and as luck would have it, there’s a slim chance he can turn that into some cash. Donnybrook is offering up $100k to the winner of a massive, no rules cage fight. All you have to do is be the last one standing. $100k will buy a home for his kids and treatment for his wife, but he can’t even afford the $1k entrance fee. So he robs a gun store where he’s known by the owner – it’s not a perfect crime, but Earl (Jamie Bell) isn’t exactly the sharpest tool, nor does he have to be in this shit town.

On the road to Donnybrook, Earl’s story will intersect with Delia and Angus, a brother-sister drug-dealing team with a questionable relationship, and the cop who’s pursuing MV5BZTJjMDdkZDgtNDRjMy00ZGU5LThjOTMtZWE4Nzk3ZDRhZTFhXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTQ1MTYzNzY@._V1_them. Lots of crazy things are going to happen. LOTS OF CRAZY THINGS. I can only hope to prepare you fractionally for the craziness that’s about to be unleashed. I was not prepared at all. Some films at a festival are hardly finished. Lots don’t have trailers yet, or even production stills. Lots will go on to be re-edited so their final, released-in-theatres version will look wholly different that the version I saw at TIFF. Donnybrook felt finished but little was known about it. The only synopsis available simply states that “two men prepare to compete in a legendary bare-knuckle fight.” I thought I was sitting down to a boxing movie, not a HOLY SHIT WHAT THE FUCK JUST HAPPENED movie, and I shouted that more than once. More than twice!

And it’s not just the gratuitous violence. There’s some pretty freaky sex stuff too. The drug-addicted wife is likely the only one headed for treatment, but she’s only the fourth or fifth most in need of it. There isn’t a healthy person for miles, and if there was, they’d probably be killed just for their car keys. Donnybrook is dark and violent and brutal.

Tim Sutton seems to want to give a voice to white rage in middle America. They’re poor, they’re addicted, they’re abused. And they’re racist, xenophobic pieces of shit, though Sutton seems to excuse that, and revel, even fetishize their anger. Which isn’t to say it doesn’t exist or isn’t a problem, just that Sutton contributes to the problem without saying anything intelligent about it. If he cared about these “marginalized” people, he wouldn’t make such caricatures out of them.

Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool

Gloria Grahame was a big name in black and white movies, always playing the tart, seducing the audience with her pout and her smoldering eyes. Now people have to search their memories for her name (or their mother’s memory, or their grandmother’s), but her star quality and talent remain.

Gloria (Annette Bening) recently moved in to a crummy flat in Liverpool to conquer the Royal Shakespeare Company and met a young man, Peter (Jamie Bell), willing to help her learn a new dance the kids are calling “disco.” Peter doesn’t seem to mind their age film-stars-dont-die-in-liverpooldifference and can’t help but fall for her. And the attention of a younger beau is just the stuff Gloria’s ego needs (and perhaps she is not unaccustomed to being the December to someone’s May, perhaps it is her M. O.).

But as fantastic as it is for both the veteran and the struggling actor, there are problems, because the kind of relationship that begins and ends in someone’s neediness is not exactly healthy. They separate, but are drawn back together when Gloria falls ill and refuses to return home, or to contact her adult children. Peter cares for her in a delicate balancing act between her mortality and his desire. She can’t stand illness, or aging, or, worst of all, undesirability. And he hasn’t learned to let go.

This movie really messed with my head for a while – the editing is such that I wondered if I was watching a scrambled copy, or if I was stroking out. It’s not always the easiest to follow. Eventually I sort of matched its rhythm and stopped worrying about things like chronology and plot. I enjoyed getting to know Gloria Grahame, a real-life, Oscar-winning actress from Oklahoma and It’s A Wonderful Life. Annette Bening, it goes without saying, is wonderful. And I’m not going to sit here and tell you she’s still beautiful because that’s a crock of shit. Annette Bening is beautiful, period, and I hate this notion that aging somehow changes or diminishes that. But I also hate the belief that attractiveness equals worth. We have some pretty fucked up core beliefs in our culture and while this movie isn’t going to change them, it might just give you pause.

Jamie Bell is good also, and I enjoyed the irony in his character arc, that he’s actually the one who is, perhaps not visually aging, but certainly maturing. And since he’s a man, maturing = saying less dumb shit. But the proof is in my struggle to write this review, which I’ve had open for the past several weeks. The words aren’t coming because I didn’t really connect to it, despite it having several admirable working parts. As a biopic, it’s really rather basic. But Bening is its saving grace (with a quick shout-out to Julie Walters and Vanessa Redgrave, also stupendous) and some movies are worth watching for the performance alone.

 

 

 

Thursday Movie Picks: Dance Movies That Aren’t Musicals

Matt

As usual, Wandering Through the Shelves has given me an excuse to catch up on movies you TMPprobably wouldn’t believe that I have missed- movies that I probably never would have sought out without this weekly challenge. The most crucial check off of my bucket list this week was Footloose, which until this week all I knew of was the Kenny Loggins song of the same name and Chris Pratt’s summary of the plot in Guardians of the Galaxy. I now know that Kevin Bacon understood what no one else in Beaumont did; that dancing has a way of helping you blow off steam like nothing else can. Not even Tractor Chicken.

Footloose may not be my favourite movie about dancing but it shares a philosophy of dance with some that are. My first pick is Billy Elliot (2000), whose main character is an 11 year-old boy with lots of reasons to want to blow off steam. His mother is dead, his father is distracted by the 1984 Miner’s Strike, and boxing doesn’t seem to be working out for him. It’s only when a no-Billy Elliotnonsense ballet teacher (Julie Walters) takes him under her wing that he finds his voice, confidence, and an outlet for his frustration. (Like Kevin Bacon, he does a lot of angry dancing). It’s touching and very funny.

Taking a page from Billy Elliot, inner city New York fifth graders learn several styles of ballroom dancing in the 2005 documentary Mad Hot Ballroom. The film follows a pilot project with the NYC Department of Education that aims to expose students to dances from around the world including the tango, foxtrot, and merengue. Like Billy Elliot, it’s surprisingly funny, with lots of Kids Say the Darndest Things Moments. Plus, it’s hard not to crack up seeing the discomfort of 10 year-old boys having to mad hot ballroomdance with a girl for the first time. Just as importantly though, the documentary lets us bear witness to a program that gives these kids a unique opportunity to learn about the arts, other cultures, and the opposite It may just make you want to dance too. At the screening I attended ten years ago, I passed a couple swing dancing right there in the theater.

Not every movie about dancing will make you want to get up and dance though. My third pick is Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler (2008), which to me follows two kindred spirits who whose bodies are exploited in one way or another for the entertainment of others. As the title the wrestlersuggests, Marisa Tomei’s aging stripper is not the central character in The Wrestler but it’s a memorable one, especially when contrasted with Mickey Rourke’s aging wrestler. Both characters are seeing signs that it’s time to make a clean break. She manages to walk away by the end, getting a chance to see what else life has in store for her, even if the wrestler isn’t so lucky.

 

 

Sean

Footloose – My favourite scene in this movie is and will always be the tractor scene, which is one of the few in this movie not involving any dancing or head-bobbing at all.  Even before I saw the movie the soundtrack was part of my life – a kid on my bus had the soundtrack and insisted that the driver play it every single day.  Which would have been fine except that every day I heard the same two songs before my stop  so it got a little bit repetitive.  But the movie and especially the tractor scene are still great.

Black Swan – this movie is creepy and crazy and awesome.  I don’t even know how to describe it or do it justice.  It’s a must see and it’s about dancing so that works out really well.

 

 

House Party – it is because of this movie that I knew in 1990 who Kid ‘N Play were even though I housepartyhad never heard any of their songs.  It was everything a white kid needed to know about house parties and rap battles and b-boy dancing.  And everything I needed to hold a (brief) conversation with all the white kids in my high school rocking fades and Raiders hats and jackets.  We watched it recently and I really didn’t remember any of it but it’s fun and it has a few recognizable faces in addition to Kid ‘N Play, including both Martin Lawrence and Tisha Campbell, pre-Martin.

Jay

Sean doesn’t know how to describe why he likes Black Swan? Let me give it a try, and I only need two words: Lesbian sex. But sure, let’s call it “dancing.” I prefer “dancing” to dancing myself, but I am quite partial to Billy Elliot, that little scamp! I was a bit of a mean little knock-kneed ballerina myself, once upon a time, and I relate to the toe-tapping need to dance although admittedly I’m not much of an angry dancer these days. Angry baking? Sure. Angry showering? All the time. But dancing I save for the happy times.
Cuban Fury – Bruce (Nick Frost) was a child salsa prodigy but gave up the swivelling hips when bullies tore the sequins from his chest and taught him a valuable lesson in humility: salsa’s for pussies. He hasn’t danced in 25 years. He lives a lonely life, bullied at work by his manager Drewcubanfury (Chris O’Dowd). But then the office gets a new boss, Julie (Rashida Jones), who happens to be a dancer herself and suddenly his passion is reignited. All three of these people are comic heroes of mine, and the movie works purely on that level alone. But I also really love the atypical-dancer motif, which is only acknowledged by others in the film. Salsa may have you thinking more Antonio Banderas than Nick Frost (are you picturing Patrick Swayze and Chris Farley doing their Chippendales act right now?) but Frost does the legwork (and the foot work!) to make the dance come alive. Although I’m not sure I needed to see him wearing quite so many silk blouses, I’m a sucker for Latin music (and Latin music mixed tapes!), and I go absolute batshit crazy for a dance-off.

Waiting for Guffman – One of Christopher Guest’s genius mockumentaries, this one tells the tale of Corky St. Clair, a fabulous wannabe-Broadway director trapped in small-town Missouri, where he gets to put on a low-budget historical musical for the town’s anniversary. As usual, his talented cast mostly ad-lib their way through the movie, which makes for crazy good times, but guffmanmy favourite is when Christopher Guest is attempting to teach choreography to a bunch of bozos. Corky’s patented dance moves are irresistible and I dare you not to smile. Eugene Levy couldn’t do it – he had to be hidden way in the back during filming because every time Guest danced it would set him off into a fit of giggles that took too long to recover from. It’s so earnest and deadpan I don’t know how any of them ever make it through a scene – I know I never do.

Gotta Dance – This documentary follows a for-true-real experiment by the New Jersey Nets – one year they put together the NBA’s first-ever all-senior (as in citizens! 60+ and creaking hips all the way) hip-hop dance troupe. I suppose this is a pretty good counter-point to Matt’s documentary GottaDancePhoto1with the kids since this one introduces us to a crowd of people who thought their ship had sailed. Some are discovering dance for the first time, others have enjoyed a little soft shoe in the kitchen for so many years the linoleum’s worn out. Two of the troupe’s over-80 members are grandmothers of Nets cheerleaders, and their stories are among my favourites. We get to know all of them, including one dowdy school teacher who develops a Beyonce-like Sacha Fierce alternate ego for performing. They’re fun to watch, even as some let their 15 minutes go to their heads, but they’ve all got commendable energy and spirit…but when they’re out on the court at half-time with thousands of people half-paying attention as they pee and get hot dogs, will they even remember the moves? Or will the racy Jay-Z lyrics trigger seizures? Anything can happen, folks!

Bonus Pick: Happy Feet The songs are great and the feet are happy…and so am I when I’m watching this.
happyfeet

Snow Piercer

An experiment to save the world actually destroys it, sending the world into a deep freeze. The few survivors board a train that constantly whizzes around the globe, smashing through ice and snow, in perpetual motion. The train is strictly divided according to class, with the very rich poshly appointed in the front and the poor kept in dismal conditions in the back until cryptic messages filter through to them, inciting them to rebellion.snow

Curtis (bushy bearded Chris Evans) is the reluctant leader of the great unwashed in a brutal, gruesome battle toward the front, and the train’s inventor\conductor, Wilford. Wilford sends his minions to do his dirty work, including a nightmarish Tilda Swinton.

I heard about this movie from several sources in late spring of 2014 and looked forward to finding it in theatres, though I never did. Why did such a fascinating movie disappear? It’s because of a little dick named Harvey Weinstein. The Weinstein Company owned the rights but didn’t believe that North American audiences were smart enough to “get” the movie, insisting on a 20-minute slaughter of the film, as well as the addition of opening and closing monologues. To punish director Bong Joon-ho for sticking up for his movie, Weinstein buried the movie. But guess what? We found it, lots of us did, and you can too.

This movie works on many levels – as an allegory, as social commentary, as an action flick, as an intense, thrilling drama.  I love how the progress of the underclass from the back of the train to the front is literally transformative, from the darkest quarters, to bright, lush, and sumptuous toward the front, with devastating frosty beauty outside the windows. This film is visionary, but it declares a certain urgency in setting year 0 at 2014. The editing is tight, it keeps the motion pressing forward, keeps the pace brisk  and exhilarating (and sometimes terrifying). This is a real trick of cinematography, to use the train’s inherent claustrophobia as an asset, and to use the momentum as a character and not byproduct of the plot. The scenes are literally compartmentalized but they fit together to make a really  nice, fluid picture that you’ll enjoy watching, enjoy rewatching, and really enjoy discussing.