Tag Archives: Kelly Macdonald

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

In Canada we have only two seasons: winter, and construction. We are right in the middle of steaming, stinking construction season here in Ottawa, and we’re facing a weekend where the 417, a major highway and our main east-west artery, will shut down entirely. This after a flood season has left our infrastructure crippled and our commutes doubled. Which sort of makes the opening scene of Hitchhiker’s seem a little more likely. In order to make way for an intergalactic superhighway, a little lowly planet called Earth has to be demolished. We meet our hero Arthur Dent (Martin Freeman) just minutes before the Earth’s destruction. He learns that his good pal and towel enthusiast Ford Prefect (Yasiin Bey, then billed as Mos Def) is in fact an alien who can call in a favour to save his friend, but erm, nothing else of human history (don’t worry, the dolphins have already defected – so long, and thanks for all the fish).

They meet up with a clinically depressed robot, Marvin (Alan Rickman), an egomaniacal president, Zaphod Beeblebrox (Sam Rockwell), and most improbably, Arthur’s Earthling crush, Trillian (Zooey Deschanel). Together they’re going to zing around the universe, searching for the Ultimate Question, the meaning of life, a single solitary spot of tea, new chapters for an ambitious encyclopedia, and any remaining shreds of life as they knew it.

Director Garth Jennings bit off more than he could chew trying to adapt Douglas Adams’ influential and beloved work, but you can hardly blame him for trying. Is the movie always coherent? Of course not. If you aren’t familiar with the book, you might find it hard to keep up. If you are familiar with it, there are no doubt bits and bobs that you’ll miss. It is not so much a faithful adaptation as an ode to it, with Adams’ blessing, and mostly by his own invention (such as the sneeze religion helmed by John Malkovich – achoo!). But if it’s a little sloppy, well, what else can you expect from a movie with an improbability drive?

Ivan Reitman and friends actually optioned the film as far back as 1982, thinking it might make an interesting vehicle for Dan Aykroyd and Bill Murray (this is no doubt true). But then Ghostbusters came calling and they were off on a tagent, and Hitchhiker’s languished in development hell, at one point with Hugh Laurie and Jim Carrey slated to appear (I’m less thrilled with that pairing, personally). Douglas Adams wanted Hugh Grant for Dent but I’m so, so glad it went to Freeman instead, who plays the everyman so perfectly he is often overlooked.

In 2005’s finished product, Sam Rockwell steals the show as Zaphod Beeblebrox, basing the character on likely unequal dashes of Bill Clinton, Elvis, and Vince Vaughn. Personally, watching it in 2019, I saw all kinds of his George W. Bush in the role and it gave me a whole new appreciation for a performance I already loved.

Anyway, it’s inevitable that a film adapted from such a great book would fail to live up to it, but I actually give it a lot of credit and find it highly watchable and highly entertaining. So many of the little jokes really do work on the screen, and everyone involved is clearly relishing the opportunity to be involved. It’s hard not to find joy where so much exists.

 

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Holmes & Watson

How old am I? I laughed at Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly all the way through Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby in 2006. And then I did it again 2 years later for Step Brothers. They were such a charming duo in their way. But here we are in 2019 and I can’t find one spare giggle for their reunion in Holmes & Watson. How old have I gotten that I don’t find these two funny anymore? Or perhaps the better question is: why are they still making the same movie when they’re both now in their 50s?

In fact, upon closer inspection, Holmes & Watson is NOT the same movie. The first two are birthed at the hands of Ferrell and Adam McKay, with just a magical sprinkling from Reilly. Holmes & Watson is written and directed by Etan Cohen, who is also responsible for Idiocracy, a movie which I find vile and deeply unfunny, so perhaps it’s no wonder at all that this one isn’t for me either.

The world is saturated with Sherlock Holmes stories and we didn’t need another, but I believe we would have made room for it if the movie warranted it. Benedict Cumberbatch has already staked an icon take on the role, and the writers on the show go MV5BM2Q0Y2UyNDEtODE1NC00ZTUyLTgzY2EtNjliM2VjNDk3NTZjXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyOTMyMjYwNTA@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,888_AL_to great lengths to honour his brilliant mind and the world’s most esteemed detective. Will Ferrell’s Sherlock is also supposed to be brilliant, but Cohen can’t find a way to express that while still being funny. The result is a rim shot – you know, when the basketball can’t decide whether to score or not, so it just sort of hobbles around in midair, keeping everyone in suspense? Only the movie’s tone is the basketball, and it circles the rim for so long that you’d rather just walk away in disgust than find it whether it eventually lands.

As far as I can tell, most of the humour is derived from Holmes and Watson supposedly accidentally inventing things far before their time, like a selfie with the Queen (it’s Queen Victoria in the movie, even though at the time of Titanic’s sail, which is when the film is set, King George would have reined), and a telegraphed dick pic

Holmes & Watson is a blemish to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s memory, and a bruise for modern cinema, which it really didn’t need. It’s not just an unfunny comedy, it’s also a shockingly bad movie. When Sony realized it had a real stinker on its hands, it tried to just sell it off quietly to Netflix, and Netflix said: no thanks. So if you’re still wondering How bad can it be?, remember that you’ll have to pay a $5 rental fee to find out, and after reading this review, if you pay it, it’s not so much a rental feel as an idiot tax, and maybe you deserve to pay it after all.

Brave

Merida may be a princess, but she’s no lady. After reluctantly performing her royal duties, she’s happiest riding her horse and shooting her bow and arrow – not feminine pursuits, according to her mother, but Merida is a daddy’s girl, and he indulges her. But even the King can’t save her when it’s time for each of Scotland’s clans to send forth a suitor to compete for her hand in marriage. It strikes Merida as almost as barbaric as it does you and I, but Merida’s mother has some very convincing myths to back up the obligation, and anyway, nobody really has any choice – for crown, for country, for glory and all that.

Anyway, Merida’s father, King Fergus (Billy Connolly) is a big beast of a man, whoMV5BMTYxNzE3NzA5MF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNjQ4MTc3Nw@@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,740_AL_ loves to tell the story of how he lost his leg fighting Mor’du the bear at a family picnic, protecting his wife and baby daughter. The Queen, Elinor (Emma Thompson) tolerates his boastful storytelling, and only rolls her eyes a little when Merida (Kelly Macdonald) embellishes right along. But Elinor knows that this betrothal stuff is serious business.

And Pixar knows that to Disney, this princess stuff is serious business. Still, they challenge the notion of what a princess should be, with Merida mucking out a horse’s stall herself, her fiery, unruly hair streaming behind her, big ideas broiling in that red head of hers. When it comes time to compete, Merida competes for her own hand in marriage, ripping the seams of her dress in order to win the day. Does her mother find this an ingenious solution? She does not. Still, Merida is Disney’s first princess without a love interest (but not its last – hello, Elsa!). Anyway, mother and teenage daughter fight, predictably, only Merida has something most teenage daughters luckily do not: access to a witch (Julie Walters). She conjures up a special potion which, when fed to her mother, will “change her fate.” And indeed it does. By turning her mother into a bear.

Pixar, as always, gets a lot right: Merida’s hair is gloriously animated (they had to invent new software to properly render it), the sun dappling is gorgeous, and there’s this moment of goofy pride on the mother bear’s face that just warms the haggis in my heart. If we must life in a world full of princesses, may they be more like Merida – brave enough to stand up for themselves, to stand on their own, to pursue their own ends.

This week Sean and I are at Disney World with my sister and her husband and her two sweetie pie boys, who are probably running through the parks like adorable hooligans, leaving us adults gasping for breath. If we have a spare moment, we might even meet Merida herself. Aside from appearing with other characters from the film in one of Disney’s many parades, she meets and greets wee lads and lassies inside Fairytale Garden, where you can also try your hand at archery, colour your own tapestry, or a picture of her horse, Angus.

b3f42e8969b8336c2c6fcc907310b529Brave came out before either, or in fact any, of my nephews was born, so I’m not sure if we’ll stop to get a picture with her – although the pair are armed with autograph books, so who knows. When a “cast member” of the Disney parks becomes a princess, one of her most important duties is practicing her distinct signature. Merida’s looks appropriately auld. There might be dozens of women who play Merida at Disney World, but they will all sign her name exactly this way. Disney is rather strict about its magic.

 

 

Goodbye Christopher Robin

I wonder in what ways the world would have been different if Alan Milne had not married a perfectly horrid wife. Daphne is an excellent socialite but not terribly prone to marital bliss. She waited for her husband to come back from war and is not impressed with the man who comes back. Her advice to just “not think” about the war is not exactly practical, and then she has a son she doesn’t want or know how to love to cheer him up, and that doesn’t work either!

But of course it’s their son, C.R., aka Christopher Robin, aka Billy, whose stuffed animals and wild imagination inspire the very thing he’ll become known for. And it’s his wife’s abandonment of the family that allows father and son to spend meaningful time together, time enough to write the stories that will enchant the world and change their family forever.

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Domhnall Gleeson plays the famous author A.A. Milne, a man ravaged by war, confused by his wife, haunted by the characters he created. Winnie the Pooh is a beloved story for children, but the people behind it are much darker than I’d imagined. This is not really a happy story. Margot Robbie plays his flitty wife, a woman easy to scorn but Robbie humanizes her, has compassion for her. Kelly Macdonald plays the woman who actually cares for young C.R., a nanny her charge calls Nou but the world will know as Alice, from the books. She’s the one who bears the burden placed upon a little boy upon whom the whole world has expectations. The cast is quite wonderful; even the little kiddo (Will Tilston) playing Christopher Robin is good, as he must be.

But as you can imagine, it’s difficult to flick back and forth between the horrors of war and the child-like wonder that inspired a favourite picture book. It adds little pops of whimsy to lighten the mood, but make no mistake: it is a dark mood in need of lightening. At times the movie really hits the right note, but it’s a tone that’s hard to keep – especially since the point is not really Winnie the Pooh OR war, but the nasty consequences of celebrity. Goodbye Christopher Robin surprised me and moved me, but it’s not a water-coloured, feel-good picture, just the sad truth behind a story you thought you knew all too well.

1976 in Film (Happy 40th Sean)

Sean and I are cruising around the Hawaiian islands to celebrate his milestone birthday, which is why you’ll find a common theme in the movie reviews here  for the next week and a half.

1976 was a noteworthy year in film. Rocky was the highest grossing movie, and it won the Oscar – for best picture AND best director (John G. Avildsen). It was p5214_p_v8_aaNetwork though that all but cleaned up in the acting categories – Peter Finch for best actor (he was the first actor to win posthumously); Faye Dunaway for best actress, and Beatrice Straight for best supporting actress. The fly in their soup was Jason Robards for All the President’s Men – poor Ned Beatty was shut out. In an upset, Barbra Streisand’s Evergreen (Love Theme from A Star Is Born) won best original song over Gonna Fly Now from the Rocky soundtrack but I don’t need to tell you which has had the more lasting impact culturally.

George Lucas began filming Star Wars in 1976, perhaps sensing that little Sean would definitely need to grow up playing light sabers. In a stroke of genius, Lucas waived the half-million-dollar director’s fee in order to maintain complete ownership on merchandising and sequels, which means that today he’s a mother fucking billionaire.

Carrie came out in 1976. So did Family Plot, Alfred Hitchcock’s final film taxi-driver-movie-1976starring Bruce Dern. And Freaky Friday with Jodie Foster. And Scorsese’s Taxi Driver. And To Fly!, a documentary about the history of flight produced by the National Air and Space Museum that was the second-highest grossing film the of the year and was the highest grossing documentary of all time until Fahrenheit 9/11 in 2004.

Kelly Macdonald, voice of Merida, the heroine from Disney’s Brave, known for roles in Trainspotting, Gosford Park, No Country for Old Men, and Boardwalk Empire was born in 1976 (the bitch. She’s married to my favourite bassist ever, Dougie Payne). So was fellow redhead Isla Fisher.

Rashida Jones turned 40 this year too. She’s currently working on the script to Toy Story 4. Reese Witherspoon turned 40. David Oyelowo turned 40. Cillian 3t0kxqbttyjlMurphy. Benedict Cumberbatch. Audrey Tautou. Colin Farrell. Happy 40th to all.

Ryan Reynolds has been making 40 look good for nearly 2 months now, paving the way for the likes of Sean to do the same.

Albert Brooks made his film debut in 1976 in a little movie called Taxi Driver. Jessica Lange made hers in King Kong and Brooke Shields first appeared in Alice, Sweet Alice.

1976 was kind of cool outside of film too: the Steelers won the Super Bowl. The first commercial Concorde flight took off. Innsbruck, Austria hosted with Winter Olympics (and Montreal the Summer). The Toronto Blue Jays were ramones-ramones1born. Apple was founded by a couple of punks you might have heard of, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. The Ramones released their first album and the Sex Pistols play their first shows, but it’s (Peter) Frampton Comes Alive! that tops the charts. The Boston Celtics defeated the Phoenix Suns in triple overtime in Game 5 of the NBA Finals – still considered the greatest game of the NBA’s first 50 years. The CN tower, then the world’s tallest free-standing structure on land, opened to the public. Jimmy Carter defeated Gerald Ford. Megamouth sharks are discovered off Oahu, Hawaii 4c33c725f6feaf2ce254254f6f1201fc(nothing to be concerned about Sean, I’m sure it’s just coincidence you’re both turning 40 in the same place). Bob Marley survived an assassination attempt. California repealed their sodomy law. Peyton Manning was born. And Ronaldo. And Mark Duplass, just a day after Sean. And as much as I love me some Duplass, Sean is still my favourite thing from 1976, and I’m so glad I get to spend the day looking for megamouth sharks on a submarine ride on the ocean’s floor with him.

 

 

 

 

TIFF: The Journey Is The Destination

This is supposed to be the inspiring biopic of photojournalist/artist/activist Dan Eldon. But something is lost in the translation between his real-life journals that inform the story, and its appearance on the big screen. Namely, the inspiring part.

Supposedly Dan Eldon was an activist from a young age, raising money for various good causes. British-born but raised in Nairobi, he had a silver-spoon life, having the best in x9kbt0q2zcmaybswkkqklezuxi3education, the ability to visit over 40 countries while still in his teens, and loads of opportunity. He sprinkled his good fortune with charitable acts for others. But in the movie we don’t see a lot of Dan Eldon, activist. Rather we see Dan Eldon, purveyor of white privilege, with a side of white saviour to further sour the milk.

The film is brought alive under Bronwen Hughes’s able direction. She attempts to turn the film into a literal scrap book of sorts, travel-logging his adventures to honour creative source material, though this conceit is used sporadically. And it’s also not a great fit for the film, tonally. By the movie’s end, The Journey Is The Destination will have brought you to some very dark places. Cutesie scribbles and doodle a la Diary of a Wimpy Kid don’t really belong somewhere that ultimately ends up more Hotel Rwanda.

I want to believe in Dan Eldon, good person. It’s just that this movie keeps showing me Dan Eldon, man of many advantages and almost no self-awareness. The cast is strong: Ben Schnetzer is charming as Eldon, plus the likes of Maria Bello and Kelly Macdonald in particular are welcome additions, but they can’t do much with material that’s inconsistent and contradictory. In fact, in researching this guy, I’ve learned that most of what we see in the movie is just plain wrong. And the edits they’ve made, perhaps to make him seem less flighty, more substantial, also make him less sympathetic.

If you’re truly interested in the man, reading his writings is likely the better bet.

Special Correspondents

It looks promising on paper: two radio station journalists get locked out of a big story in Ecuador so they decide to make it up instead. Eric Bana plays images73W735HWFrank, the dashing and charismatic reporter while Ricky Gervais plays his lackey, Finch. Finch is a clumsy and oblivious guy with a beautiful but disloyal wife (Vera Farmiga) whose ineptitude causes he and Frank to miss their career-making flight to Ecuador just as a war is breaking out.

Unable or unwilling to admit their mistake, the two men decide to hole up in New York City and broadcast fake reports convincingly doctored via satellite phone. Somehow neither anticipates that this will get out of hand, even when a sweet colleague (Kelly MacDonald) worries over the increasing threat to their safety. Do things snowball? Yes, yes they do.

Ricky Gervais adapted the script from an existing French movie (Envoyes tres speciaux). Nobody skewers celebrities quite like Gervais, his stand-up is tightly written and expertly delivered, and he’s got so many successful TV shows that IMDB stopped counting . Movies, however, seem not to be his forte. There were moments during Special Correspondents when I thought: “Niiiiiiice.” but those turned out to be little desert islands in a huge sea of disappointment.

 

The premise is teeming with satire potential but the movie is devoid of Special1anything intelligent or funny or worthwhile or clever. It’s flimsy. Like, paper-thin. And the characters are so one-dimensional that while we can’t really believe that there is not one but two Hottie McHottersons willing to bed Finch, we also don’t really care. This feels lazy and phoned-in and at times it also looks downright cheap, and I don’t just mean that it was filmed in pretend-NY Toronto (although it was. Sidebar: Gervais’s father is Ontario-born and French-Canadian).

The cast is fairly impressive but the poor script and direction make sure there are no stand-outs (and to be honest, I’m still wondering if the stuff with America Ferrera was just really weird and unnecessary or if it was as downright racist as it felt). In the end, Special Correspondents isn’t even a satisfying way to pass the time. If you’re looking for something decent to watch on Netflix, look elsewhere – perhaps to Grace & Frankie, a series that actually does have something to say, and lands laughs while doing it.