Tag Archives: Jeff Daniels

Paper Man

Richard Dunn (Jeff Daniels) is a failed writer, and perhaps just a failure, period. His successful surgeon wife Claire (Lisa Kudrow) has rented him a little writerly cottage in Long Island and gifted him a laptop as well as the time and space needed to get to work on his second novel. Despite that sounding like absolute pure heaven to most of us, Richard doesn’t manage a shred of gratitude. Instead he wonders if this is in fact a trial separation in sheep’s clothing.

So I guess that’s why he doesn’t feel particularly guilty when he spends this time not at his desk but getting to know a teenage girl named Abby (Emma Stone). Abby is a lonely, solitary sort of person, despite the fact that she has a devoted friend and a bad boyfriend. She and Richard are practically kindred spirits, which they discover when he repeatedly hires her as a babysitter despite the fact that he has no kids. Yes, it plays as creepy as it sounds. And yet a friendship blooms in this unlikely, inhospitable place.

Despite Richard’s middle age, he is a child. He is petulant. Self-indulgent, he sees only MV5BMTMyNTk2MjcwNl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwOTMyNzUzMw@@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1501,1000_AL_his own need and sorrow. This is further indulged by his imaginary friend, Captain Excellent (Ryan Reynolds, before he played Deadpool or even Green Lantern), a super hero type in cape and tights who tells him what he wants to hear.

You can imagine what it might be like to be married to a Richard. This is a coming of age tale for a man who is way too old to need one. A late bloomer or just too pathetic for words? Richard straddles that line, uncomfortably. But he’s reaching out, so not all hope is lost. He’s perhaps reaching out to the wrong person, to an inappropriate person. How is this relationship likely to be interpreted – by his wife, or her parents, for example? And yet this is what it is to be human. It’s all about the connection. Richard and Abby can truly be themselves around each other in ways that they haven’t achieved anywhere else.

Jeff Daniels continues to be good in dark roles. Emma Stone is vulnerable and feverish. They’re a couple of wounded characters and they ooze their indie drama. There’s a danger of drowning in all the mutual wallowing. For all its quirk, Paper Man might be lumped into those “man-child-struggling-to-grow-up” films (coming of middle age?), but it is saved by some very compelling performances.

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The Catcher Was A Spy

Mo Berg was a real-life baseball player, a queer, an intellect, and a spy. In the off-season, he worked for the Office of Strategic Services. When the Americans get an inkling that the Germans may be working on a nuclear bomb, they sent Berg overseas to find the brilliant physicist, Werner Heisenberg.

If Heisenberg is indeed working on a bomb, then he must be executed for the cause, right? But we don’t want to sacrifice a perfectly good brain if we don’t have to, and Heisenberg (of the famed Heisenberg principle, in fact) is the second most sciency scientist in the world (sucks to be Einstein’s contemporary – must be a little like being my sister, I assume).

Paul Rudd stars as our dashing but enigmatic hero. He does indeed play catcher behind MV5BNDYyNjMxNDUwOF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNTUwNDgyNDM@._V1_SX1500_CR0,0,1500,999_AL_the plate, and if he plays it anywhere else, well, the movie’s inconclusive about that. In fact, Berg was so secretive, he was destined to be a spy. Baseball was just a funny pit stop along the way – but while he may have been a third string catcher, he was a first string spy. Just perhaps not a first rate choice for biopic.

Now, understand that Paul Rudd is adorable as always and totally up to the task. He’s propped up by able performances by Jeff Daniels, Paul Giamatti, Tom Wilkinson, Mark Strong, and Guy Pearce. But the script lets them all down by failing the man himself. He is no doubt an interesting man, but if The Catcher Was A Spy is a weak spy thriller, it’s also a diluted character study because the writer just won’t stick his neck out. Berg risked his life for his country, but between screen writer Robert Rodat and director Ben Lewin, those boys won’t risk accidentally making a good movie. Instead, they play it safe, and frankly, dry. Mo Berg was clearly a curious and compelling guy. The movie has none of that, no quirk, no zing, no point, really. End title cards have to deliver the punch, and I didn’t come here to read, y’all.

 

TIFF 2015: The Martian

Since I read for leisure less than I’d like, it is rare for me to be hoping that Hollywood does justice to a book I absolutely loved.  Andy Weir’s The Martian is that book. Jay handed it to me a while back and the way she did, I knew it was something special.  The Martian is both the most accessible and most science-heavy science fiction novel I have ever read.  If you haven’t read it, do yourself a favour at some point and check it out.  You won’t regret it.

When I heard that Ridley Scott’s adaptation of The Martian was premiering at TIFF 2015, it went to the absolute top of my list.  And it quickly became clear I wasn’t the only one who felt that way.  Despite having a good window for our premium selections, the red carpet premiere was gone before we even had a chance at it.  But fortunately, Matt used his window to grab Jay and me a pair of tickets for the next (and only other) TIFF screening of The Martian.  We got to see it yesterday and it did not disappoint!

The movie is everything it could possibly be.  My only question as we were leaving the screening was whether there was a way they could have kept more in the movie, because some of the problems that arose in the book did not make it into the movie’s two-hour-plus run time.  But that’s inevitable and it’s not something I can criticize because the movie was expertly paced and there was nowhere to expand without losing momentum.  It’s a reason to re-read the book but not a fault of the movie.

The best part of the whole experience was seeing the spirit of the book preserved and celebrated.  As Jay pointed out afterward, while we lost a little Mark Watney time, we gained some time with the other characters, and it was a pleasure to get to know them better.  It might even be a better fit with the theme shared by the book and the movie, namely that when we all work together, we can accomplish remarkable things.  All we need is a little motivation.  There’s no villain here.  There are only challenging problems to be solved by the people who are determined to save one unlucky botanist, most notably the botanist himself.  It’s a joy to watch it all play out, especially against the backdrop of a Mars that is both desolate and vibrant.  The visuals are incredible from start to finish.  See The Martian in 3D if you can – it’s simply spectacular.

The Martian is perfect.  I can’t wait to see it again.

Mother-Son Movies

TMP

I dedicate my submission to Wandering Through the Shelves’ Thursday Movie Picks this week to my own mom. She gave me life and unconditional love and, on Mother’s Day, I took her to brunch.

sixth sense

Toni Collette is no stranger to playing a mom with a lot on her plate but she’s never been in more over her head than in The Sixth Sense (1999)   Single mom Lynn Sear has no idea that her 10 year-old son can see dead people but she can tell that something not right with him. To me, her performance as a mother who just wants to help but doesn’t know how is the best part of the movie and Haley Joel Osment’s scenes with her are far more believeable than his with Bruce Willis. I expressed my enthusiasm for the final mother-son scene in the movie in 10 Movie Moments That Took My Breath Away.

Millions

Speaking of kids who see dead people, seven year-old Damian is frequently visited by dead saints in Millions (2004). There’s a whole lot going on in my personal favourite of Danny Boyle’s films but- for the purposes of our belated Mother’s Day- Damian’s obsessions with saints seems to come from the conviction that his recently deceased mother must be a saint now herself. The appearance of his newly-sainted mom at the end of the film is just plain beautiful.

squid and the whale

When his parents separate after 17 years of marraige, Walt (Jesse Eisenberg) defends his father (Jeff Daniels) and rejects his mother (Laura Linney) in The Squid and the Whale (2005). Walt idolizes his father so much that he basically becomes his clone. When following in his father’s footsteps starts getting him into trouble and he starts seeing his dad’s true colours, he is surprised to find himself thinking of treasured memories of his mother from long ago- before he had chosen sides.