Tag Archives: Jason Clarke

TIFF18: First Man

You know the story. The whole world knows the story. Neil Armstrong, an aeronautical engineer and Apollo astronaut, was the first man to walk on the moon. “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” – that was him. American hero, international phenomenon, global icon. First Man is his biopic, tracing the 304400 km path he took from humble test pilot to living legend.

First Man is Damien Chazelle’s follow-up to the ethereal La La Land, which made him the youngest Best Director to ever be awarded the prize at the Oscars. To say I was highly anticipating screening this movie at TIFF is like saying Armstrong was kind of an interesting guy – a resounding understatement. But when the lights came back up, I was feeling a little…underwhelmed? Bored? Disconnected.

Feeling uncomfortable with my initial reaction, I turned to my favourite critic in a whole cinema full of press, and invited him to discuss and unpack this movie over sushi burritos. First – Ryan Gosling. He gives a terrifically reserved, very stoic performance as a famously quiet, attention-shirking man. Armstrong is surprisingly passive when encountering life-altering choices. He’s dispassionate. He’s obsessed with technical detail and getting things right but he never seems overly impressed with the great heights involved in his job. Wait a minute – is it possible Neil Armstrong was on the spectrum? To be clear, I’ve never heard that he’s an Aspie, or had high-IQ autism. Nor have I heard it mentioned in the context of this film. However, his wife at the time, Janet (played in the Film Title: First Manmovie by Claire Foy), called him “emotionally disconnected.” In the film, he struggles to speak to fellow astronauts and even his own children, and goes out of his way  not to. But it’s not that he doesn’t care. He clearly grieves the loss of his infant daughter, and thinks of her often. And he’s sensitive to the deaths of his colleagues. But these are internal struggles that rarely get expressed, or expressed correctly. He’s not unfriendly or unapproachable, exactly, but human connection is hard for him. Is undiagnosed autism what Gosling is hinting at with such a performance? And with that question in mind, the rest of the movie unlocks before me.

I trust Damien Chazelle as a director. If I’m feeling underwhelmed, isn’t it because he wants me to? After all, this is the guy who made me sweat while watching a movie about jazz (sorry, jazz). If he wanted me soaring among the stars, he certainly has the vision not to mention the skill. He swept me away with La La Land; I danced out of the theatre even as I ugly-snot-cried. If my feet are more firmly planted on the ground for this film, there has to be a reason.

What if Chazelle is attempting to put us not just in Armstrong’s shoes, but in his head? I felt very removed during the movie, but maybe that’s exactly his intention: to show the greatest, most ambitious, most adrenaline-fueled achievement in the history of humankind through the eyes of someone who doesn’t express feelings in the usual way.

Whoa.

Now that I’m re-examining the film through this  new filter, I realize that I don’t remember Gosling smiling even once in the whole 120+ minutes. He doesn’t cry when he’s sad, nor does he ever appear to be particularly happy. At a pre-flight press conference, a journalist asks him how it feels to find out he’ll be the first to walk on the moon, to which he simply responds “I’m pleased.” Finding this response lacking, the reporter probes further, asking him to compare it to finding out he’d been selected for NASA’s astronaut program, to which Armstrong can only repeat “I’m pleased.” Although he’s certainly capable of more complex emotions, communicating them seems impossible. Another scene that struck me is one in which Armstrong is trying to sneak out of the house without saying goodbye. He’ll be gone for 2 months, strapped to a bomb that will explode him out of the atmosphere to land or crash on the moon and no one knows for sure if he’ll ever come back. His family has attended the funerals of many friends and colleagues who’ve perished in various missions. His two young sons are sad and scared and he tried to sneak away. His wife has to beg him to say a few words, but “I love you” are not among them. Knowing his father doesn’t like hugs, his brave son offers a handshake instead, not knowing if this is to be their last embrace.

This film is strangely muted, with even the score a tad alienating with unfamiliar instruments. And check out that photo from above – doesn’t that blue wash make him seem lonely, and isolated? This great adventure in the sky should be exciting and staggering, but the biggest sensation we’re given is physical discomfort as we’re rumbled and tumbled about during liftoff sequences. Not that Armstrong complains. There’s no swelling pride or patriotism, no heroic speeches or manly tears. In fact, there’s very little awe. In the vastness of space, the screen is often filled with a solitary face. I wonder if the emphasis on extreme close-ups is supposed to symbolize Armstrong’s challenge in deciphering non-verbal cues, or if it’s merely to give us a better view of his consistently flat affect.

The camera seems to offer things up from Armstrong’s point of view – one small chunk of moon dust rather than an entire lunar landscape. His trip into the infinite universe feels very small, and very  humble, but he’s not unmoved. He just has a narrow focus, more fascinated by his own boot print than by the multitude of stars. Does Armstrong feel more at home in the empty quiet of space? Maybe. But we’ll never know because he sure as heck didn’t say so.

If my little theory is correct, I wish I had know it going in rather than piecing it together in hindsight. What more would I have noticed? I can’t wait to re-watch and find out. I can’t wait to appreciate Armstrong and his accomplishments in this new light, and to celebrate Chazelle as a director who can so completely immerse and saturate you in someone else’s experience. Remarkable.

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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!

Mudbound

Two soldiers, equally scarred by the war, return to their homes in the South, and to their families who await them. Their shared experience bonds them but the colour of their skin keeps them wholly separate. Rural Mississippi sucks the big one.

Jamie McAllan (Garrett Hedlund) goes home to stay with his brother Henry (Jason Clarke) and his new wife Laura (Carey Mulligan), who he basically saved from spinsterhood, because that’s what we call 30 year old unmarried women in the 1940s. The marriage is not exactly a romantic one, but she bears his children and lives in a hovel raising them while putting up with disgustingly judgy side looks from her creepy father in law (Jonathan Banks).

Meanwhile, just down the road, Ronsel (Jason Mitchell) goes back to the shack where his family is eking out a living helping out the McAllans. It’s hard to really 170123-stern-mudbound-embed1_wdoplhdistinguish between different levels of abject poverty, but there’s no question that the white McAllan family will always be in a better position than the black Jacksons (yeah, I feel weird writing that, so go ahead and feel weird reading it). Ronsel is having trouble adjusting to this country that demands that he risk his life defending it but then will spit in his eye the moment he’s back on American soil. Tough blow.

And Jamie’s only doing nominally better because his budding friendship with Ronsel is particularly irksome to his daddy, who’s a clansman. So yeah, shit gets real. This is not a pretty movie. I didn’t have much of an opinion of Hedlund before this but I found Mudbound to be well-acted: Mulligan, Mitchell, and Mary J. Blige as Mitchell’s mother are stand-outs of course, and Jonathan Banks made me want to spit nails. Into his eyeballs. Or nutsack. Or both. Rusty ones.

This movie says a lot about race and inequality but is largely unsentimental. The setting is sparse but the characters are rich, with great performances fleshing out mudbound existence. Director Dee Rees paints a stark portrait, accurate but not antiquated.

TIFF: All I See Is You

All I See Is You is a movie I wish I could unsee.

Blake Lively plays a woman blinded in a childhood accident. Her husband dotes on her, and in the first few scenes of the movie, director Marc Forster wants to experience her perceptions. Film is of course a visual medium, but as she and her husband have sex, we focus on different sensations – on the all-i-see-is-you-review-blake-livelysheets, on his hands, their breathing, the sounds drifting in from outside, the memories that keep cropping up. It’s a strong enough start but when she becomes a candidate for surgery that would restore her eyesight, things start to shift.

The story shifts. It’s not just her life that changes as a seeing woman, but his as well. Both struggle to redefine themselves. But now that her vision is restored, I found the film harder to follow. In fact, I didn’t follow it. Afterward, momentarily blinded by the sun upon exiting the dark theatre, Sean and I compared notes and found that neither of us could account for some strange occurrences in the movie. I was willing to believe that I was just tired and bored and inattentive, but since both of us failed I’m more inclined to blame it on bad film making.

As Blake’s vision begins to focus, she sees cracks in her marriage. Neither she nor her husband (Jason Clarke) could have anticipated the cobwebs they’d find in the corners of their relationship. And as much as she’s maybe not digging the dynamic in her marriage, she’s definitely into what she sees in the mirror! A dye job and a push-up bra are top priorities, and I’m sure her corneal transplant surgeon (Danny Huston) feels very gratified. The film continues to present images that are a little surreal, paired with incongruous sound that represent the disparity in her experience. Some of it is a little too obvious and some of it’s way out of left field. Like if you take a left at the hot dog cart behind left field, keep going pass the overflowing garbage can with all the bees buzzing around it, and head for the 3rd red Buick in the parking lot, that’s maybe where this stuff came from. And that’s me being generous because in my hard little heart I still believe some of this stuff was slotted in just to see if we were paying attention.

Her husband definitely prefers her submissive and dependent, and things crumble when she’s suddenly strutting her hot stuff all by her lonesome. But I can’t quite feel a lot of empathy such a vain and selfish character. There’s nobody here to root for, not even the dead bird stuffed mysteriously down a glass bottle in the refrigerator (?). I don’t think there is any saving this movie, but Lively definitely doesn’t have the chops for it. If I’d had an inkling that Sean was finding All I See Is You just as painful as I was, I would have organized a walk-out.

Terminator: Genisys

There were already a lot of strikes against this movie and then to add insult to injury, I had to double check the “correct” spelling of Genisys.  The agony this movie is inflicting on me seems endless.  And with that, I have tipped my hand as to how this review is going to end.

Terminator: Genisys is a complete mess, which sadly has been a recurring theme for this franchise over the last 20 years.  So in that regard, I can understand why rebooting it makes sense, particularly since the original Judgment Day was in 1997, so when that came and went it made the franchise feel a little dated.

But the way they handled the reboot just trampled all over the first two films, which I still consider to be two of the best sci-fi movies of all time (with the second one being one of my all-time favourite movies period, having seen it at least 25 times because when 14-year-old me was in a hotel for a swim meet one weekend, I figured out how to watch pay-per-view for free, so had this movie on repeat every minute I was in the room).  I’m not even sure if I need to be careful with the big twist, since James Cameron spoiled it for me repeatedly in Cineplex’s pre-show.

Without even referring specifically to it I may still give it away.  My complaint is simple: somehow someone decided that a good plot twist would be to do something to one of the franchise’s main characters that renders every movie to date, including this one, totally irrelevant.  I have no idea why that ever seemed like a good plan.  Sure, it makes it easy to put a new timeline in place going forward, but even if that was the plan, the movie fails as a reboot because the ending leaves us with no momentum whatsoever and no reason to anticipate the next movie in the series (if there even is one after this debacle).

I often complain about reboots and, in particular, rehashes of origin stories as a reboot mechanism.  Well, this reboot mechanism is worse.  And that has me really shaking my head in disbelief, that somehow they found a way to be worse than the lazy reboots, because it seems they did really try with this one.  Unfortunately, it’s just so misguided and so unfaithful to what has come before that it offends me.  It brings me almost to the level of hatred I had for the Star Wars prequels.  Terminator and Terminator 2 were movies I absolutely loved as a teenager and basically, this movie is the equivalent of Skynet sending a robot back to 1991 to repeatedly punch me in the groin while I was watching T2 for the first time, thereby changing the course of history and preventing me from ever liking it.  And this time, the robots won.

I’m not even giving this a rating.  I’m too angry.