Tag Archives: Kate Winslet

Contagion

Returning home from a business trip to Hong Kong, Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow) goes from coughing to dead on the kitchen floor, foaming at the mouth in very short order. As husband Mitch (Matt Damon) accompanies her to the hospital, their young son is dying at home, though not before infecting a few people at school. Mitch, however, seems to be immune. There are similar pockets popping up in China and Japan, as well as elsewhere in the U.S.. The particular strain of contagion is new, and scientists from the Centers for Disease Control are racing to identify and stop it.

Director Steven Soderbergh masterfully creates wonderful tension with this tightly scripted (by Scott Z. Burns) horror film where infection is the monster and everyone is a potential victim. You start looking at rather innocuous things – a doorknob, a packed bus, a water-eyed child – as awfully threatening and suddenly the movie is packed with dread and danger.

Kate Winslet and Marion Cotillard play scientists with boots on the ground who suffer for their work in their own ways, while a little higher up the chain, Laurence Fishburne grapples with the more ethical side of the equation. In a race to save lives, whose lives will be saved first? There are lots of fine performances but no real stand-outs and Soderbergh seems determined to cast every celebrity he’s ever had drinks with. Because it’s packed with so many characters and perspectives, it’s not a very intimate story, rather, it’s more like a disaster movie where the threat is invisible but no less deadly.

Of course, in a scenario like this, disease is only part of the problem. With thousands dropping dead every day and no cure in sight, society begins to break down. Quarantine laws shuts down even essential services. Life as we know it ends rather quickly, and the world’s greatest cities are quickly shadows of their former selves. It truly doesn’t take much, which is the scariest reminder of all.

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TIFF19: Blackbird

Lily (Susan Sarandon) and Paul (Sam Neill) have called their loved ones over for a very important occasion – Lily’s death.

Oldest daughter Jennifer (Kate Winslet) arrives first, early, with salt and pepper shakers, a gift she immediately questions, and regrets, but feels compelled to give anyway, and a cake she made from scratch, because that’s what she does. Husband Michael (Rainn Wilson) and son Jonathan (Anson Boon) trail in behind her, at a slight remove from her chipper wake. Younger daughter Anna (Mia Wasikowska) arrives late, of course, empty-handed and with meagre excuses for having missed the last several family gatherings. She’s accompanied by unexpected/uninvited Chris (Bex Taylor-Klaus), her on-again/off-again girlfriend. Also on hand: Lily’s best friend and indeed lifelong family friend Liz (Lindsay Duncan). And that’s it. These are all the people Lily wants to say goodbye to before she takes her own life before an unnamed degenerative disease can do it for her, in a likely prolonged, painful, and undignified way.

Everyone knows of Lily’s intentions and everyone tries to put on a brave face despite their own personal feelings – for a while. Lily wants to revisit some old haunts, drink some good wine, host one last Christmas dinner (despite its not being Christmas), and give out some precious heirlooms while she’s still alive to see the recipient’s face. Lily is exceptionally happy to have this last time together, but she’s the only one who can truly enjoy it. Everyone else is just sort of grimly bearing it while having private breakdowns, until one wine-fueled dinner leads to all kinds of family secrets breaking open.

This movie isn’t going to win major awards or draw major box office. It’s a remake of the 2014 Danish film ‘Silent Heart’ which I have not seen. But despite it not being particularly ground-breaking or excellent film making, it is perhaps the single movie out of the 40 or so I saw at TIFF that I’ve thought about the most.

This family believes itself to be, prides itself on being, close-knit. And it might have gone on that way forever, untested, if not for this incredibly stressful time that they’re sharing. Surrounded by her family, Lily proclaims how proud she is of her daughters – a lovely sentiment that would normally be quite harmless, but in this pressure-cooker of a weekend, daughter Anna can’t help but wonder out loud if that can really be true if her mother’s really never known her. Not her true, inner self. And if you’re the introspective type of moviegoer, I suppose you can’t help but reflect on your own family situation. These people, who are supposed to know you and love you best, are often the source of the most conflict and pain. Your own mother, who made you and cooked you in her belly, who birthed you and bathed you and cared for you – does she know you? Do you hide any part of yourself from her? Are you comfortable knowing everything about her? Are any of us truly knowable by any other?

I confess, this movie sent me into a tailspin. And to be honest, that’s exactly what I love about going to the cinema. It’s the chance, albeit a pretty slim one, that I will leave the theatre thinking. Feeling. Questioning. Considering. I did not need a movie to remind me that my mother doesn’t truly know me, but it did leave me wondering what, if anything, I would reveal of myself if I knew her time was limited.

Lily is someone to each person at her table: wife, mother, best friend, grandma, in-law, trusted confidante, role model, judge. Everyone has something different to lose, and it’s figuring out exactly what that is that makes this process so difficult. Life is an equation. Lily feels her good days are up and craves the control to prevent too many bad ones. Anna feels she isn’t ready to lose her mother. Is anyone, ever? I think both sides of this equation are reasonable, but only one can prevail. These are the seminal relationships of our lives and we are born knowing that they will end. Are we ever really ready?

Susan Sarandon is self-assured and brave. Sam Neill is a stoic, steady silver fox. Kate Winslet is anxious and authoritative. Mia Wasikowska is wounded and fragile. They are not a perfect family, which is to say: they are a family. And they’re about to break.

Wonder Wheel

25 years ago, Woody Allen sexually assaulted his 7 year old adoptive daughter, Dylan. “Allegedly.” He has continued to make movies and has continued to be rewarded for them while his young victim has grown up in a world that protected bullies and made excuses for monsters.

Not anymore. For too long we have separated art and artist – but at whose expense?

Last year Allen released Wonder Wheel, starring Kate Winslet and Justin Timberlake, just as the #metoo movement was gaining ground. For the first time, actors were being put on the spot, forced to justify their work with him (and others, to be sure), and to actually be accountable for making a career choice over a moral stand. Some of his past collaborators were quick to jump ship:

“I did a Woody Allen movie and it is the biggest regret of my career.” – Ellen Page

“I wouldn’t work with him again.” – Colin Firth

“[It] made me realize that I increased another woman’s pain, and I was heartbroken by that realization.” – Greta Gerwig

Kate Winslet had some early Oscar buzz for her role in Wonder Wheel, but seemed to sink those chances by refusing to condemn Allen in the months leading up to its release. Now, obviously it’s a tricky situation when this is your work and you’ve signed a contract and you have some obligations. But also she’s a millionaire with a shelf full of awards who could probably spare a little of both to stand up for her fellow woman. And, you know, do the right thing.

Griffin Newman, who is a more modestly paid actor from Allen’s upcoming film, A Rainy Day in New York, wrestled with his conscience and decided to donate his salary to RAINN, the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network. That prompted some of his more famous costars, Rebecca Hall and Timothee Chalamet, to do so also. Hall wrote “I see [now] not only how complicated this matter is, but that my actions have made another woman feel silenced and dismissed. That is not something that sits easily with me in the current or indeed any moment, and I am profoundly sorry. I regret this decision and wouldn’t make the same one today.” She donated her salary to Times Up, the legal defense fund to support victims of workplace sexual harassment. Chalamet has said “I don’t want to profit from my work on the film. I want to be worthy of standing shoulder to shoulder with the brave artists who are fighting for all people to be treated with the respect and dignity they deserve.”

f50690e00877dc00ee5218bfa40af334--woody-allen-hollywood-actressesMeanwhile, Justin Timberlake got some deserved flak for daring to wear a Times Up pin but refusing to so much as comment on his willingness to work with Allen. Both Selena Gomez and Elle Fanning have been unapologetic about working with him on A Rainy Day, a troubling trend for young women. Jude Law and Liev Schreiber have also remained mum. Scarlett Johansson, who has positioned herself at the forefront of the Times Up movement and has publicly criticized James Franco for his creepy sexual advances, has failed to comment on Allen’s though she’s worked with him repeatedly. And Alec Baldwin has of course been stupid enough to support him – I suppose abusive men have to stick together.

Will Woody Allen continue to work in Hollywood? Who knows – he’s actually mostly been working for Amazon lately, and that’s a questionable future since he was brought on board by – guess who! – Roy Price, the guy who has since quit amid sexual harassment allegations. Sigh. I guess the better question is Who cares? He can continue to write and produce, but it’s going to be a lot harder to secure financing without big-name stars, and it’s going to be an awful lot harder for a big-name star to sign on without backlash. And in the meantime, his movies are nothing if not a good excuse to talk about a movement that’s been a long time coming and to thank the brave people like Dylan Farrow for speaking up and reminding us all what’s important.

 

The Mountain Between Us

You know that snooty, fake, half-pouty smile an airline employee gives you right before they tell you the bad news?

Ben and Alex are both trying to get home – he’s got an important surgery to perform in the morning, and she’s got a wedding to attend (her own). The snow says no. The goddamn airline employees deploy their sorry-not-sorry smiles. So Ben and Alex, 620x349strangers in an airport, devise their own workaround: they’ll hire a small plane to get ahead of the storm and deliver them to their destination. But as you can probably guess, this was not the cleverest of plans. Their plane goes down, and thanks to some handy plot devices, no one even knows where they are. Help isn’t coming. They can either stay where they are and starve\freeze to death, or they make the mountain their bitch.

I read and enjoyed the book and then I watched the movie and didn’t quite know what to make of it. This is a story of survival. Of two strangers becoming dependent on each other, knowing they will most likely die and having to make really tough decisions together. Kate Winslet is good and Idris Elba is good but together they have the chemistry of two half-wilted house plants. The movie takes an against-all-odds story and turns it into romantic schmaltz, but these two characters (and these two actors) don’t pull it off – and it’s an insult to humanity anyway. I mean, yes, IF I have to get into a horrific plane crash where my injuries make it difficult to escape but do not in any way mar my perfect looks, I HOPE it’s with Idris Elba and I HOPE we fall in love despite the fact that I have a perfectly good husband at home and I obviously haven’t shaved my legs in days or weeks or months or whatever. I’m just saying it’s not exactly probable.

The film isn’t a complete waste of time because it is Kate and Idris and even when they’re at their worst they aren’t half bad. And there’s a lot of frozen Canadian landscapes to keep your eyes busy and your mind hopefully engaged elsewhere, because if you stop to think about this plot for even a second, it all turns to mush.

 

 

 

The Life of David Gale

David Gale (Kevin Spacey) is an anti-death-penalty activist and professor in Texas (in Austin, Texas, actually, which happens to be where we’re headed this week for SXSW, but that’s just a weird coincidence). He’s quite politically active until he winds up on death row himself, accused and convicted of the murder of another activist (Laura Linney), and sentenced to capital punishment.

The_Life_of_David_Gale,_2003Journalist Bitsey Bloom (Kate Winslet) is brought in to do one last interview with him before he’s put to death, but what he tells her isn’t a straight forward of guilt or innocence, but rather challenges her notions of justice and the legal system. But can she trust what she’s being told, or is David Gale just a smarter-than-average killer?

The thing about this movie…[this is me trying to decide whether I’m going to be polite about it]…is it’s not very good. I mean, it’s trying to be mysterious with a message. But if you can imagine that the message is a big salami, then imagine getting hit in the teeth with this salami, well, that’s The Life of David Gale.

Obviously it’s not for capital punishment. Or is that obvious? Or even true? Because I think tumblr_nijqy0nx9o1t0t91ao7_1280unintentionally, somewhere in the convoluted mess, it might actually manage to do the complete opposite. The Life of David Gale certainly traps some very worthy actors in a mess they can’t act their way out of. Kate Winslet is pretty Winsletty, although she does a fair bit of running just to show how urgent, how life-and-deathy this whole thing is, but Spacey: man. That guy did not get the good end of the salami here. He’s particularly bad acting opposite the kid playing his young son. It’s just uncomfortable to watch.

The film, Alan Parker’s last, wants to be thought-provoking but leaves neither room nor nuance for any thought at all. Although it lures you in with the promise of high concept, it’s more manipulative and frankly, more mundane than you’ll think possible. It ends up feeling fairly generic despite a stellar cast with 13 Oscar nominations between them. In the end, I was just hoping they’d be put out of their misery, which is probably the last message an anti-death-penalty movie wants to send. Then again, nothing about The Life of David Gale suggests that anyone put even that much thought into it.

A Little Chaos

Paris, 1682: King Louis XIV wants the gardens of Versailles to equal the beauty and grandeur of his 700-room, 2000-window, 1250-fireplace, 67-staircases palace.

0626littlechaos1-master1050In the film, his master gardener Andre feels the task is too immense (and the King’s ambition too grand, too exact) and he hires help to get it all done. His choice for the architect of an elegant outdoor ballroom stuns all the applicants: it’s a woman, not very well known, not a member of court, Sabine.

Now, if you know me at all, you know all you had to say was Versailles. I would probably get all beheady if my hard-earned tax dollars funded the place, but it’s obscenely, richly, decadently wondrous to look at. But here’s the thing: this is a movie that just keeps on giving. If you aren’t immediately convinced by the setting, here are three names to make you fall down in a faint: Kate Winslet, Stanley Tucci, Alan Rickman.

Alan Rickman, who also directs, gets to wear the crown as King Louis. Tucci gets to play a mere 624duke, but poor Winslet is the one wrecking her nails playing in the dirt. Kate Winslet, as you well know, is born to play such a role. She’s a period piece angel, a garden fairy, her creamy skin made for corsets, her wavy hair’s blonde highlights catching the sun’s warm rays, making her glow, making her attract the attention of the handsome and ill-married master gardener (Matthias Schoenaerts).

Sabine’s character is of course fictitious; women wouldn’t have been allowed to hold “jobs” at that time, even if they were widowed and otherwise poor, as Sabine. But Rickman’s insertion of her into a known piece of history really mixes things up and brings a level of enchantment to the a-little-chaos-film-201-009piece. The gardens are beautiful, but they’re just the setting for a lot of familiar human emotion: love, betrayal, grief, triumph.

A Little Chaos is held up by fabulous performances by a very talented cast. It’s not quite passionate enough as a romance and is completely anachronistic as a historical drama. Nary a poor french peasant is glimpsed. But if you’re willing to let that go, I bet you’re going pulled into this fantasy as I was.

 

 

Collateral Beauty

collateral-beauty-trailerWhile searching for Will Smith’s filmography, I was surprised to see the pleasure with which critics are tearing this movie apart. The reason I was looking for Smith’s info was to try to figure out whether Collateral Beauty is his best dramatic performance (and I quickly realized that since I haven’t seen Ali, I’m disqualified from weighing in on that topic). With that lead-in, it probably goes without saying that I again think it’s been too long since the critics were thrown a juicy morsel, they’re searching for anything to bite down on as a result, and Collateral Beauty has been flagged as an easy target.

Collateral Beauty is not a great movie by any means, but it’s very watchable for several reasons. First, Smith reminds us that he can hold his own against anyone, no matter how many Oscar nominations/wins they may have (his co-stars in Collateral Beauty, Edward Norton, Kate Winslet, Helen Mirren and Keira Knightly, have two Oscar wins and countless nominations between them – incidentally, how does Michael Pena not have any yet?). Smith is consistently the most interesting person on screen even though for a significant portion of the movie he doesn’t say a word.

Second, there’s something undeniably watchable as the movie tries to take aim at cliches, even when it does so by using other cliches. Perhaps it’s just that the cliches that bother me the most were the ones under attack. I can’t really say any more without spoiling some of the characters’ arcs, so if you want more of a rant on that point then feel free to request more details in the comments section.

Third, I found out early on that I was wrong about how the movie’s plot would play out in a major way, which almost never happens nowadays due to the sheer number of trailers foisted on me (especially when half of them have no qualms about spoiling the best parts of the movie they’re promoting). On a related note, seeing a movie in Hawaii earlier this week was sobering because I think they showed every trailer currently in rotation. I am sure Canadian theatres will soon follow suit and it’s already too much here! Just let me watch the movie I paid for already.

Since I’ve started complaining (it never takes too long), it seems like a good time to talk about negatives from Collateral Beauty, and there are some significant ones.  The bigggest problem is that Smith’s character’s supposed friends treat him in the worst way imaginable during the worst time of his life, and it seems we are supposed to forgive them for it. The film attempts to make it easier for us to do that but its method requires a major swerve by Smith’s character that came too quickly to feel natural, as well as a twist that seemed too convenient a fix.

That same convenient fix also transformed the tertiary characters’ motivations from awful to divine and again the turn felt too abrupt. While it made thematic sense and actually tied the movie together well, the execution was too rough to be satisfying (and it also gave rise to a new (/old) complaint about the trailer that I can’t discuss without getting into spoilers so again, comment if you’re curious to hear more of a rant on this point).

All in all, Collateral Beauty is worth a watch and is definitely not deserving of the hatred it’s receiving from critics. It’s quite decent and gets bonus points for making me choke up a few times (something that doesn’t happen very often). Sure, it’s cheating a bit by focusing on death and loss, but Collateral Beauty is intended as a tearjerker and wholeheartedly embraces its nature. Is that such a bad thing? I don’t think so.

Collateral Beauty knows what it is and delivers exactly what you’d expect. If you’re in the mood for a sob story then this is your horse. I think riding this teary pony wore Jay out, though, so be prepared if you’re a real cryer like Jay as opposed to a robot who occasionally feels sad (which is the category Jay has put me in and I’ve really got no valid argument against it – beep-boop).

Collateral Beauty gets a score of six teary-eyed robots out of ten.