If you love Julie Delpy, as I do, you probably love her talky scripts, her hyper-verbal, over-analytical characters who leave no thought unspoken. She has a knack for combining drama and comedy and elevating both with intelligent commentary. My Zoe is quite a departure. Which isn’t to say that it’s not smart or insightful. But it is very, very different.
Isabelle (Delpy), loving mother to Zoe (Sophia Ally) is going through a divorce from her husband, James (Richard Armitage). Their daughter’s custody is their battleground. They both love and want her desperately, but they might also have the need to hurt and wound each other however they can. It hasn’t been easy. Zoe is a sweet little girl who is too young to understand the animosity. When James notices a bruise on Zoe’s arm, he is not un-accusing of Isabelle. When Isabelle hears Zoe sneeze, she is not un-accusing of James. They are suspicious of each other’s parenting, determined to be the Best and Most Devoted One. I wish I could say that all dissolves when it turns out Zoe is gravely ill.
A mystery illness strikes quickly, and severely, and the waiting room where the two parents wait is a literal tiny glass box where their tension just bounces off the walls and back into their bodies, ratcheting up the hostility with each allegation lobbed. Is it love gone sour that has them at each other’s throats, or just fear and frustration? Truly, to be the parent of a sick child is the most helpless one can feel. It’s no wonder they seek their scapegoats. Up until this point, the movie is riveting: emotional and raw, full of anger and spite. But then it makes a u-turn.
The next half is so materially different that you might wonder if you’d fallen asleep and woken up during an entirely different movie. It’s still Julie Delpy, still playing a devoted mother, obsessed, even. But everything else has changed: the characters, her surroundings, and most of all: the tone. It’s disorienting trying to get your bearings in this new reality.
Delpy is of course quite good – sometimes astonishing, sometimes vehement, often dangerous and despairing. Her performance is a wail heard by mothers everywhere. But it also reaches beyond the normal, natural borders of motherhood and asks: what else? The answers are not necessarily comfortable.
Bill’s wife died suddenly and quickly, and left her husband and teenage son devastated. She was the love of Bill’s life and the emptiness without her is unbearable. Trying to outrun his pain, he packs up his son and moves cross country to beautiful California where his son Wes attends and Bill teaches at a private school.
There, Wes (Josh Wiggins) will meet Lacy (Odeya Rush), a student haunted by her own searing pain, and Bill (JK Simmons) will meet Carine (Julie Delpy), the beautiful andsmart French teacher who couldn’t possibly fill the hole left by his dead wife. These women are the jolt of electricity they’ll need to venture outside their mourning and start to admit that life goes on. Sadly, though, it’s not quite that easy. Grief is complicated, and depression lurks behind it, ready to steal away one’s remaining parent.
This sounds like a downer but actually that doesn’t tell the whole story. There’s laughter coupled with the sorrow, and the two co-exist quite comfortably for two reasons. First, it’s a good script, grounded in reality where nothing is black and white, where even depressed people can retain a sense of humour, where sadness and happiness often coincide, are two sides of the same debit card (who carries coins anymore?). Second, there are some very humane performances, particularly by JK Simmons. Writer-director Kurt Voelker manages to respect each of his character by giving them each an arc of their own. He manages to traverse some shaky ground by transcending the genres and making a film that is uniquely his.
There’s a stirring masculinity on display, showing grief and depression in their many forms, which are sometimes more difficult to identify in men. The emotions are no less visceral and Voelker keeps them accessible, making sure that honesty is at the forefront, and that no one is identified solely by their loss. Sean will love the Pacific Coast Highway views from a Mustang convertible, and the rest of us can enjoy a naked performance from a great actor unafraid to be vulnerable in his tightie whities.
I love dogs. I have 4 dogs and I like them more than I like most people. They’re just more genuine, you know? You always know where you stand with a dog. I have 2 shih-tzus, 1 yorkie, and 1 beautiful little mutt. No wiener dogs, but not because I don’t like them. It’s because Sean thinks it’s cruel to breed a dog to be disabled. And he’s right; the short legs and long back of a Dachshund causes them to suffer from ruptured vertebral discs on top of bowed legs and elbow dislocation. Seeing my dogs joyfully running around outside, I would be heartbroken to have one little dog who just couldn’t join in.
Wiener-Dog is a movie ostensibly about a super cute Dachshund who gets passed from one weird owner to another. The film is more like 4 shorts that only have a dog in common. I didn’t even believe that it was the same wiener dog in all 4 vignettes. The first two are clearly linked, the last 2 not so much. The shorts also become increasingly non-entertaining. I thought the first one was the strongest: a father picks up a puppy for his young son, who has recently survived cancer. The dog sparks many serious conversations between mother (Julie Delpy) and son – motherhood, personality, free will, death. But all of the conversations are straight out of a what-not-to-say handbook, with Delpy literally telling her son that her childhood dog Croissant was raped by a dog with AIDS named Mohammed. The satire is delicious. There’s an explosion of joy on the screen as a boy and his dog play together, but this outburst of happiness is quickly punished, and the dog changes hands.
This is how it is with director Todd Solondz. He doesn’t care about your comfort, he’s not here to cushion the blow. And he’s sure as hell not here to give you a happy ending, so keep that in mind. Next up for Wiener Dog, she gets adopted by a character from another Todd Solondz movie, Welcome to the Dollhouse. Dawn is all grown up now, and played with Greta Gerwig. She runs into childhood…acquaintance (?) Brandon (Kieran Culkin) in a 7-11, and suddenly Wiener Dog’s on a road trip through some really heavy issues. She also meets disgruntled professor Danny DeVito and bitter old hag Ellen Burstyn. Through it all, Solondz’s camera is unflinching, perversely lingering over the gross and unbearable.
Solondz’s rage is evident in spades, from the meta film school vignette to the open mocking of the audience’s queasiness with a tongue-in-cheek intermission (and a great song – The Ballad of the Wiener-Dog). Solondz is all about finding humour in the darkness, and Wiener-Dog is an innocent bystander to all kinds of human stupidity. The film drips with cynicism. It was too much for Sean. And while I can’t really profess to enjoying it, I deeply appreciated the fuckedupness of it.
The last weekend of TIFF held a lot of first-rate movies for us.
The Dressmaker: Kate Winslet is ravishing and saucy is this film about a little girl who’s sent away from small-town Australia when she kills another child, and returns years later a sophisticated, fashionable woman able to transform the townspeople with her Singer and some satin, but not erase their memories. Her past is a shadow never escaped. It reminded me in some ways of Hot Fuzz – the facade of a close-knit town spoiled by the spectre of evil. The title may sound prim and proper, but the movie’s just a little bit naughtier, and helluva lot quirkier. Even Sean enjoyed it more than he thought he would; the movie’s sheer audacity earning quite a few laughs. It’s dark, and with theme shifts from elder care to bedding a younger lover, this movie doesn’t quite know what it wants to be. Not that that stopped me from thoroughly enjoying it. Winslet and Judy Davis as her demented mother give really strong, badass performances.
The Danish Girl: Both timely and timeless, this one’s a stunner in many ways. Eddie Redmayne’s performance is a show-stopper. Alicia Vikander proves she’s not just a flash in the pan. And my god it’s gorgeous to watch. So lush. A real artist’s palette. As you know, this movie is about one of world’s first sexual reassignment surgeries; painter Einar Wegener always knew he was different, but when he dons panty hose to sit and pose for his wife (also a painter), Miss Lili Elbe emerges and can’t be denied. This movie is restrained and delicate – and maybe a little too tepid, considering its thematic content. But it definitely worked for me on a more personal level. What is it like when the man you love tells you he’s really a woman? And what happens when you still love this woman, but she wants to leave her past behind? It’s anguishing watching them try to redefine their lives, and their selves. Redmayne will of course get another Best Actor nod (but will he win and join Spencer Tracy and Tom Hanks in back-to-back Oscars?) but I won’t be surprised if Vikander is recognized too. The Danish Girl ends up being as much her story as Lili’s. It’s not bold, it’s not daring, and it’s not a masterpiece. But it is a triumph.
Anomalisa: Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson make a surprisingly exceptional pairing. Together they direct the most invigorating piece of film I’ve seen in a long time. The script is amazing. It’s funny and smart from start to finish. The stop-motion animation is also first-rate and very distinguished. There’s nothing like it out there. How can something so banal be so funny? It’s the perfect examination of human connection, and this will stand up there with Kaufman’s best. Weird? Of course it’s weird, that best kind of brain-tickling, truthful weird. But the genius is in the pairing – for every nuance offered by Kaufman, Johnson answers with a brilliant piece of animation: the earbuds, the car air freshener, the lobby flower arrangement, the miniature hotel room hair dryer. I always adore stop-motion animation because this physical recreation of an entire world always seems to show so much care and precision from the animators. Anomalisa is a marvel to look at and think over, and if you love Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Being John Malkovich, then this one’s unmissable.
Legend: The legend worth noting here is Tom Hardy himself – twice. He plays real-life gangster twins, Reggie and Ronnie Kray. And he manages to make these men who look so much alike feel like complete individuals. And the camera tricks that make Tom Hardy able to punch himself in the face are super cool. You can’t take your eyes off him, no matter who he’s playing. The movie, though, wasn’t my favourite. It’s exceedingly gory and gleefully bloodthirsty in some parts, and then suddenly you’ve got supercheesy 1960s pop Going To the Chapel blaring like this is some throwback romcom. There’s an annoying narration, I think to cover up some of the holes in the story, but at any rate, it doesn’t work. This movie feels as schizophrenic as poor Ronnie is claimed to be, and while it’s still worth checking out for Hardy alone, it’s best to lower your expectations a bit.
Lolo: I love Julie Delpy. I love how she writes such witty, talky women. It’s like hanging out with your girlfriends: snappy, snarky, sharp. This movie is about a 45 year old Parisienne, Violette (Delpy) and how she falls in love with “country bumpkin” (Dany Boon). This might have been a smart and sexy meditation on middle-aged coupledom but instead it falls apart when Violette’s millennial son Lolo is introduced. You’ll want to punch this kid in the face, especially as he lounges around in his hipster underpants one too many times. He’s jealous of mommy’s new lover, and resorts to all kinds of low-brow, stale antics to drive them apart. Delpy is better than this. If she had made a movie with just the new lover and her best friend, my god, that would have been a power house. She didn’t need this juvenile intervention, and it’s not her strength as a writer nor as a director. I still enjoyed her bawdy sense of humour and breezy manner, but it wasn’t quite the film I’d hoped it would be.
When I was a kid, I loved Back to the Future and Home Alone and, when I first heard about sequels, I couldn’t believe my luck that there would be more of exactly the same. Home Alone 2, Back to the Future II, and Back to the Future III were predictable in the best way possible with virutally every scene from the first being pretty much recreated in some way in the sequels. As much as I loved the familiairity of sequels in those days, i’ve come to expect a little more. Here are three that aim a little higher than giving us more of the same. Please visit Wandering Through the Shelves to see what sequels some of our favourite bloggers love.
Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)– Director james Cameron seemed to realize that Arnold Schwartzenegger, who had starred in several hits in the seven years between Terminator movies, was a tough guy to root against. As imposing a villian he was in Terminator, Arnold is just more fun as a hero in Terminator 2. With those sunglasses, that bike, that jacket and those one-liners, he brings a lot of charisma to the role of a robot. Other improvements include a tougher Sarah Connor (who Linda Hamilton is more than up to the challenge of playing), imaginative effects, and an altogether more epic approach to the story.
Before Sunset (2004)– 1995’s Before Sunrise seems like an unlikely beginning to a franchise. It was low-budget and SO talky. I actually hated it when I first saw it. I found it to be boring and a little pretentious and it started in me a hate-on for Ethan Hawke that has lasted to this day. Nine years later, when Celine and Jesse reunite in Paris, they have matured just as the actors have and are much easier to root for. Their conversations, which seemed so trite to me in the first, are loaded with subtext in the second. They’ve spent nine year wondering what they would say to each other if they saw each other again and the weight of this moment is felt through every minute of this beautiful film.
The Raid 2 (2014)– The Raid: Redemption, although awesome, was little more than a brilliantly executed bloodbath. Director Gareth Evans raises the stakes for The Raid 2 with even more carnage and well-choreographed fights but we get so much more. While the first was set almost entirely in a crackhouse with dialogue only when absolutely necessary, the second weaves a much more complex crime story with our hero going undercover in an organized crime syndicate in the middle of a turf war. Some of the best action filmmaking I’ve ever seen.