Tag Archives: Jonathan Pryce

The Healer

I have been avoiding writing this review all weekend, and it was a long weekend. Which is kind of meaningless now since February 26th. It’s all been one looooong weekend. I didn’t even mean to watch this movie but Netflix crowned it #1 in Canada so I thought I’d better hop on the snow mobile (which is the Canadian expression for jumping on the bandwagon).

Anyway, it’s super bad.

It’s about a guy, Alec (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) who is both a womanizer and a gambler and he’s in quite a bit of a pickle over both of those things, but I’d hazard a guess that the Russian mobsters are the most menacing. So let’s call it convenient when a long lost uncle he’s never met (Jonathan Pryce, bewilderingly) shows up out of nowhere and offers him escape. If Alec agrees to spend one year living in tiny fishing village Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, the uncle he’s never met before will pay off all his debts, solve all of his problems. Alec isn’t super keen but is also out of options, so he hops a plane to Halifax and hopes for the best.

Once in Canada, this same uncle has a home already waiting for him, and a car, so all that’s left is to set up shop with the only skill he has, fixing electronics. But the next day he finds that the villagers have misinterpreted his intentions and they’re visiting in droves hoping ‘The Healer’ can repair not their VCRs but their ailments.

This movie is insulting on many levels, not least of which is the entire Atlantic ocean’s worth of suspension of disbelief you’ll need to swallow any of it. And then you’ll be insulted on behalf of Maritimers who are quite reasonable people and would make use of our excellent universal health care rather than lining up at a strange handyman’s house, begging for him to lay hands on them, unwilling to believe it’s a misunderstanding, furious that he won’t at least try.

It’s crazy and disappointing on many other levels as well. I’m not sure why good, salt of the earth, church-going people would gobble up what’s tantamount to witchcraft. I can’t imagine why parents would leave their seriously ill child with a strange man who has a strange reputation, unsupervised, for an entire weekend. Or why anyone would use sexual orientation as a shield. Or how anyone would so grossly misinterpret the lyrics and meaning of George Michael’s Faith.

But most of all, I can’t understand the motivation behind dedicating this seemingly random movie to the memory of Paul Newman. The director assures us it’s because Newman worked tirelessly and charitably for kids sick with cancer. And this movie…suggests that the cure may be in the hands of a sexaholic with a charming British accent who apparently is just withholding it from all but Nova Scotians…because why? It’s a dangerous message to put out there: it’s not science, it’s not religion, it’s just plain old fashioned magic, and if you don’t know a magician, you’re just shit out of luck.

TIFF19: The Two Popes

When Pope John Paul II died, a conclave of the world’s cardinals assembled in the Vatican in order to elect their new leader. A cardinal needs 77 votes to win; votes that fail to achieve that number are burned and black smoke signals to the throngs of believers outside that another round of voting will be necessary. After two such failures, the guy who wants it the most, Ratzinger (Anthony Hopkins) makes the rounds, glad-handing and kissing babies. Just kidding. The process IS crazy political and Ratzinger is the consummate candidate, but priests are still celibate last I checked and besides, babies would wreak havoc on those all those white robes. Ratzinger wins in the third round, becoming Pope Benedict XVI, sending up a puff of white smoke to cheers outside.

But Ratzinger’s papacy is mired by conflict from the start. You may have heard some of catholicism’s myriad scandals – the whole priests molesting altar boys and all that. Plus his own personal secretary is arrested, and his correspondence leaked. But most of all, he’s haunted by the runner-up for pope, an Argentinian named Bergoglio (Jonathan Pryce), who seems to be effortlessly popular. Bergoglio didn’t even want the job and didn’t campaign for it, yet he still almost won, which drives the ambitious but unlikable Ratzinger crazy.

The bulk of the film is about a secret meeting between the two when Ratzinger begins to realize that though Bergoglio is much too progressive for his taste, he is perhaps what the church needs right now. They’re not enemies, because brothers in god can’t be, but they are opposites. They discuss theology, dogma, belief, but they’re also just a couple of grumpy old men, struggling to fit in in a world that seems to want them less and less. Ratzinger is a Fanta-Formula 1-Fitbit kind of pope, touches that humanize a man who seems otherwise apart from, and perhaps above, humanity. Bergoglio is a football and tango kind of cardinal. If two of the highest-ranking catholic priests can’t find common ground, what hope have we for the rest of us?

The film opens closed doors in Vatican City and offers brilliant behind the scenes insight. It makes you wonder about things you’ve never stopped to think about before. But it’s put together in a fun and very watchable way. If you never thought about the natural pairing of a somber religious occasion and Abba, then please allow director Fernando Meirelles to expand your horizons.

Hopkins and Pryce play off each other with such dynamism even their silly pope clothes fall away, leaving just two men, more fallible and more human than we’re usually allowed to consider them, telling each other their sins, secrets and regrets. The audience is their confessor, without being asked to judge, or forgive.

The Two Popes is thought-provoking but more importantly, and somewhat surprisingly, delightfully funny and entertaining.

The Man Who Invented Christmas

My bosom is glowing. That’s what we used to call boobies when I was little: bosoms. Pronounced bazooms, of course. My grandmother told us that eating our sandwich crusts would result in big bazooms and I gobbled mine up greedily, and those of my sisters, if they left them.

Is it a digression if I lead with it? Back to my glowing bosom, which is a line I lifted from the movie itself. It’s the story of how Charles Dickens came to write A Christmas Carol. He’d gotten a taste of success with Oliver Twist and was determined to live 58dd47c10c48e-e2i2h1u1qk5henceforth like a gentleman, but his next three attempts were flops – poorly reviewed, scarcely read. He was really under the gun to write his next best-seller and you know what pressure does to a writer: it blocks him. He pitched a vague idea for a Christmas ghost story to publisher and was laughed right out of the office, Christmas being a “minor” holiday and all. He determined to self-publish and gave himself the daunting deadline of just 6 weeks hence – a release just barely in time for Christmas. The only problem aside from funding was that not a word had been written.

The film follows Dickens (Dan Stevens) on his frantic quest to write a wildly popular novel without the merest hint of a concrete idea. He agonizes over the creation of characters and then is haunted by them, literally. Scrooge (Christopher Plummer) mocks his attempts and grumbles when he isn’t given enough lines, or enough good lines. Dicken’s father (Jonathan Pryce) is visiting and provides constant distraction. If you have even a passing knowledge of A Christmas Carol, it’s kind of fascinating to watch its author draw inspiration from his own life and everything around him, turning ordinary things into ideas that have permeated our culture and helped to define how we celebrate our holidays. While director¬†Bharat Nalluri of course takes some dramatic license, the spirit of the thing is largely accurate.¬†

Dan Stevens is well-cast as Dickens, and it gives me great pains to send any praise his way because I’ve always held a grudge for how he treated Lady Mary when he left Downton Abbey the way he did. But in The Man Who Invented Christmas, he brings Dickens alive, a man for whom his characters were more alive to him than his own loved ones, and though Scrooge et al literally do speak to him (and offer criticism), his genius and vivid imagination are not to be discounted. But if the film merely existed to give us Christopher Plummer as Scrooge, that alone would be enough. About to celebrate his 88th birthday, the man still has performance in his bones. He won his first Oscar at the age of 82 for Beginners, and it is possibly not his last – he’s got 4 movies in various phases of production, including his hasty replacement of Kevin Spacey in Ridley Scott’s All The Money in the World. This movie is a perfect example of why Plummer is still in demand. He turns an invented character into a real, flesh and blood man.