Tag Archives: Michael Shannon

TIFF18: What They Had

Ruth is confused a lot of the time, most of the time. Some days she wakes up not knowing who the old man in her bed is, determined to get home to her mother and father, who must be worried. The old man in her bed is Burt, her husband of many years. She’s his girl and he can’t stand being separated from her, so he keeps her at home despite it not being what’s best for either of them at this point.

One Christmas Eve, Bridget (Hilary Swank) gets a phone call from her brother Nick (Michael Shannon). Their mother (Blythe Danner) has left home in the middle of the night and their father (Robert Forster) can’t find her. Anywhere. In California, Bridget is dealing with her own empty nest, estranged daughter, and failing marriage, but she’s What They Had - Still 1been insulated from the problems with her father, who’s recently had a heart attack, and her mother, whose Alzheimer’s is only getting worse. It’s Nick who’s been dealing with them in Chicago and now he wants and needs her support in getting Ruth into a memory care facility – a suggestion he knows Ruth can’t consent to, and Burt will oppose vehemently.

What They Had is a tender movie about memory and family, and what it means to lose a loved one in increments. There’s no one in this family you can’t relate to, and it’s painful to watch them fail to unite, even in their grief. They are all, in fact, playing for the same time: each wants Ruth to be cared for. Burt think she should be cared for by the man who has spent a lifetime loving her, even though no single person can provide the round-the-clock care she requires. Nick worries that Burt caring for Ruth puts them both in danger, and is eager for professionals to take over and give him some respite. Bridget wants to avoid conflict and plays both sides, unwilling to see her mother neglected or her father alone. This is a choice that many families will face, and the film reflects our pain and reluctance so clearly it can be hard to watch.

Throuh it all, Blythe Danner shines her light. Ruth may not have her memory, or even a stable sense of self, but Danner always shows her humanity and her dignity, and even glimmers of humour and comfort. Robert Forster is wonderful, gruff and gentle, unwilling to let go of the love of his life. He is the movie’s anchor, and his family’s anchor, though not always a benevolent one. Is he a bit of a bully? Certainly he continues to treat his children like father knows best, and the dynamics are accordingly unhealthy. Bridget spins her wheels of indecision and Nick internalizes his anger. Shannon is terrific, as always, a kooky, rude, intemperate git who feels like everyone’s pain in the ass brother.

The film gives you permission to laugh. It feels uncharitable to do that with someone who has reduced capacity, but sometimes the jams Ruth gets herself into are quite funny. And sometimes they’re so egregious all you can do is laugh. Laugh or cry – and this movie will have you do both.

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12 Strong

In the days immediately following 9/11, George Bush believed that Osama Bin Laden was being hid by the Taliban in Afghanistan. He demanded that Afghanistan hand him over, which they refused to do without concrete proof that he was responsible. So because everybody’s blood was up and something had to be done, they declared war. 12 Strong is about the first 12 guys who were sent over there on a special mission that they apparently did well, and quickly, only no one ever gave them the thumbs up about it because it was classified so they got no credit. This movie is their reward, but not a very good one. I would have preferred a sundae or an iguana or that new sunblock that has glitter in it. Instead what we got is yet another war movie, one that does little to add anything new to the conversation or the genre, one that feels derivative of other work and repetitive even within itself. It’s kind of long and boring and just not very good, other than the acting. Since that’s all the review I think this movie deserves, I will now attempt to act it out for you (minus anything graphic, or racist, hopefully) so that you don’t have to sit through it yourself. Of course, you still have my permission to watch it you wish. Or if you must. Or you can watch it without my permission, as may already have done (sorry I’m so late. I really did drag my feet on this one AND MY INSTINCT WAS CORRECT!) – frankly, you guys have done an excellent job of watching movies without my hand-holding, and I’m not sure if I’ve ever really congratulated you about that.

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When I told Sean I’d watched 12 Strong, he asked “The one with the horses?” Yes, yes it is.

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But not that one. Although, if you have a good memory, you know that apes on horses really freak me out. This movie just has soldiers on horses because there weren’t any Jeeps in Afghanistan. Don’t quote me on that. I just made it up, but it does explain the horses.

Chris Hemsworth plays the main soldier guy, who is just moving into a new home when the first plane hits the towers. Sad moment. Cannot make fun of that.

Good job casting the right Hemsworth, and even better, casting that Hemsworth’s wife to play his wife.  I just had to google Elsa Pataky because she had an accent in the movie but it sure wasn’t American or Australian, and yup, turns out she’s Spanish, so that checks out. I clearly don’t know her from much else besides having married into the Hemsworth clan, and she’s clearly too busy pushing out blonde surfer babies to do much acting, other than the Fast & Furious franchise, which I will politely look the other way on.

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This is the real Hemsworth family, not the movie one. I’m 95% sure.

So being a proud American and a keen soldier, Hemsworth volunteers to do whatever is necessary, and so do Michael Shannon and Michael Pena.

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Once they’re over there, William Fichtner tells them they’re going to fight alongside the Northern Alliance leader, Dostum. I know the titles implies that there are 12 guys but I’ve only named 3 actors, so here’s the deal: the 12 get split into 2 groups, the brave and good and movie-worthy group goes to battle, and the other group stays behind in a fortified camp and they are just as important as the alpha group guys, just as good, even if they don’t really do anything. So Hemsworth’s group is a pack of 6, and they just focus on the most handsome 3, which just makes good sense.

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Do I look like the kind of man who gets left behind at base camp?

Anyway, then there’s like 2 hours of fighting.

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Well, no, okay, it wasn’t a dance battle. If there was a dance battle, do you think I’d be dissing this movie? No, there were your standard guns, guns, bullets, guns, rockets, explosions, guns, bullets, guns. The typical war boner stuff.

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Then an Afghani man drives a very hard sheep bargain

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The transaction was not cute in any way and upon reflection, I cannot for one bloody second remember why Michael Pena wanted a sheep so goddamned bad. Anyway, there was at least one truly horrific scene that I can’t make light about, and Dostum and Chris Hemsworth get all buddy-buddy when Dostum talks about his dead family. But then he gets enraged because some other American contingent is back his rival, so he abandons them, feeling betrayed.

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But then he comes back! And there’s more fighting.

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And an email from Donald Rumsfeld, being a dick (is that redundant?). Michael Shannon gets what is described as a “sucking chest wound” and they all act surprised that someone could get hurt out here (no sense of irony for all the Afghans who have visibly been blown to bits). Don’t worry, Michael Shannon definitely survives because he’s already fighting the next war, which is against books.

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Fahrenheit 451, starring Michael Shannon and Micheal B. Jordan, airs on HBO May 19th.

 

 

 

Then there’s some slow-motion explosions (did Michael Bay make a directing cameo?) and some very heroic music and other American propaganda bullshit.

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And then they all shake hands and touch peckers and go home, because JOB DONE. This movie has embarrassingly zero hindsight and very little perspective. This little top-secret mission comprised the first 23 days of the war in Afghanistan, and they really dropped some bombs and shook some shit up, but guess what? That war is ONGOING. As in, the longest war in United States history. But never mind that. Let’s focus on those first triumphant 3 weeks and let our chests swell with pride.

The end.

Pottersville

Maynard is the nicest guy in town, so it’s kind of upsetting when he goes home to surprise his wife with a couple of steaks and instead finds her – no, not naked in bed with another man, but dressed up in a plush mascot costume with one, which is somehow worse. She’s not just an adulteress, she’s a furry, the kind of person who gets kicks from dressing up and rubbing herself on someone else, also wearing a sweaty costume.

still1_pottersvilleMaynard is shocked and disturbed, and after a night of drinking, he finds his old hunting gear and an ape mask, though they bring him little consolation. Cut to: the next morning, the small town’s abuzz: big foot is on the loose. It doesn’t take long for Maynard to connect the dots and realize HE’S the one they’re looking for, but he keeps that embarrassing information to himself and the legend grows.

Netflix has a whole bunch of really, um, interesting holiday fare in its lineup this year, and this one stars the likes of Michael Shannon, Judy Greer, Ron Perlman, and Christina Hendricks (as the furry). I kind of dig Michael Shannon. He’s a great actor whose choices sometimes baffle me – this holiday season you can check him out in this, or the Oscar-bound The Shape of Water. Totally up to you. If you’re looking for a Christmas movie that’s light on Christmas, high on conspiracy, and is a tolerable if forgettable watch, well, I can say with confidence that this is the cream of the crop. If it’s also my opinion that the crop this year is spoiled, well, that’s a whole other post.

 

 

TIFF 2017: Bingo! I Got Bingo!, Part 3

So if you’ve made it this far, you know that I’ve thanked some volunteers, watched 3 movies from female directors, and carried around a dead phone. Impressive, if I may say so myself, but it’s not enough to get TIFF Bingo.

Make a New Friend in Line

With hours spent sitting in uncomfortable theater seats punctuated by hours spent standing in line, the people you stand with and sit next to can really make or break your TIFF experience. A good conversation can make the two hours spent waiting for the perfect seat just fly by. Just as an annoying person can make the minutes drag on like hours. And if you’re thinking “Wait a second, I wonder if he’s talking about me. I am a total jackass after all and I did spend all of Euphoria with my elbow in his personal space,”, yes. I’m talking about you.

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Downsizing– If Downsizing isn’t my favourite movie at the festival this year, it’s definitely close. I couldn’t wait for the latest from Alexander Payne, a filmmaker whose nearly every imdb credit (Election, Sideways, The Descendants, Nebraska, and even Downsizing) has been praised by one of us at one point or another. Fans of his work may be surprised by the science fiction elements of his latest film but Payne, who introduced the film, sees this as a disappointing rehashing of the same themes. “Just a poor {‘schmuck’ I think was the word he used’] from Omaha middling his way through life trying to make some sense of it all. Just this time with some science fiction thrown in,” he joked.

Downsizing has lots of subtext to ponder and debate but it’s hard to take it all in on your first viewing because it’s all way too much fun to watch. This may be Payne’s most entertaining and laugh-out-loud funniest film so far and I’m quite sure that I’ve missed some of the best jokes because they were drowned out by the Elgin Theater crowds’ laughter.

The new friends I made while waiting to see Downsizing took TIFF just as seriously as I did. Like me, their rough drafts of their schedule looks like the wall of an insane person trying to solve a murder. The thing is, once the line starts moving, you lose each other in the crowd . So if you’re reading this and you bought seven 10-packs to share with all your friends and you think you may have stood in line with me, leave a comment. I’d love to hear what you thought of the movie. And I hope that Karen has finally paid you back.

Pronounce “Saoirse” Correctly

 

The Current War– Saoirse Ronan wasn’t in The Current War but I did talk about her in line to see it. “Who’s in Lady Bird again? Is it Saoirse Ronan or Elle Fanning?” I asked the nice couple in line ahead of me. I pronounced Saoirse correctly. Everyone seemed really impressed. What’s ironic, I realize now, is that I got her last name wrong. I always say “Rowan”. But TIFF Bingo said nothing about “Ronan” so it still counts.

I wish I’d seen Lady Bird instead of The Current War. It’s not like The Current War is a bad movie, it’s just more forgettable than it should be. The second feature from Alfonzo Gomez-Rejon (Me and Earl and the Dying Girl) dramatizes the rivalry between Thomas Edison (Benedict Cumberbatch) and George Westinghouse (Michael Shannon) as they race to heat and light the entire country with electricity. So it’s got potential. Cumberbatch and Shannon are pretty much the Pacino and DeNiro of leading men born in the mid-70s who specialize in playing eccentrics so the thought of seeing them go head to head put this at the top of my list. I passed on Suburbicon for The Current War!

There is some really good writing in this script but for every scene that captivates there are two more that look and sound like they were filmed for a Made for the Edison Museum movie. Both actors are good but are usually even better and they share disappointingly little screen time.

There’s a good movie in here somewhere. The Current War’s best scenes concern the lead-up to the first execution by electric chair and, for a movie that suffers from lack of focus, this subplot may have worked even better as the main plot.

 

The Shape of Water

What did we ever do to deserve Guillermo Del Toro? The man is willing to crack his head open and allow his most beautiful dreams to spill out, onto the big screen, for our viewing pleasure. The Shape of Water, a delicious period piece with fantasy elements, is just about as sumptuous and satisfying as it gets at the movies.

Sally Hawkins, an inspiring casting choice, plays Eliza, a mute woman working as a cleaner at a top secret government facility. She and her cleaning partner Zelda (Octavia Spencer in a role she was born to play, because between Hidden Figures and The Help, MV5BZDU0NmU1NDUtNjMyNi00YTMyLTgwNWUtNTVmMzQ3NzJjNTJmXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTk1MzcwNTI@._V1_she already has) stumble upon agent Strickland’s (Michael Shannon) latest capture, a humanoid sea creature reportedly worshiped as a god by the Amazonians. Set against the Cold War era, the Americans hope this scaly curiosity will give them a leg up against the Ruskies are and prepared to torture the secrets out of their prisoner – and worse. But sweet Eliza spots the creature’s humanity and her kind heart urges her to save him. She enlists a scientist at the facility (Michael Stuhlbarg) and her neighbour Giles (Richard Jenkins) in her daring escape plan, but Strickland isn’t going to let this career-defining prize slip through his rotting fingers.

The Shape of Water is poetic and beautifully stylized. I fell in love during the opening shot, an ethereal scene that establishes the fairy-tale quality of the story. The whole film is richly textured; it feels like a story book you’ll want to step inside. Full credit to production design and art direction for creating a living, breathing piece of art that feels grounded in reality but often has this other-wordly, heightened reality feel to it that you just don’t find in your average film. The script, a Guillermo-Vanessa Taylor hybrid, is a phenom. It so smartly sets up all that is to come with careful, quiet nods. This is a movie with many small pleasures, many delights to savour. Because our heroine is non-speaking, the score plays a major role, and composer Alexandre Desplat is more than equal to the task. Del Toro weaves magic into threads of monster movie – love story – musical – spy thriller – comedy. I’m not sure which of these is more surprising, but all are very welcome. You may hear from others that this is Del Toro’s best since Pan’s Labyrinth, but they’re lying. I believe this is his best, full stop.

The Shape of Water wouldn’t be nearly so special without Sally Hawkins’ grace and measured precision. She’s wonderful, full of light, communicating much with little. Eliza is a woman of small parameters. Her life is ordered and banal. She’s suffering in her loneliness when she meets her merman, and her outsider status allows her to view him not as a monster but as a kindred spirit. Richard Jenkins meanwhile is restrained as the starving artist next door. Michael Shannon is anything but as the man who gets the job done at any cost – unless his vanity gets in the way. He’s awfully fond of the trappings of success. You might be starting to get an idea of what makes this script so lush: all the characters are brought fully to life. This is the clown car of movies, a film filled to the gills with interesting ideas and perfect little moments and scene-stealing details.

You don’t just watch a movie like The Shape of Water, you feel it, you experience it. We saw its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival this week but it’s coming to a cinema near you this December, and you won’t want to miss it. Hawkins’s name will be on the Oscar ballot and I’m guessing Del Toro’s will be too – maybe even twice.

Groundhog Day

Groundhog Day has recently been resurrected as a Broadway musical, and Bill Murray went to see it on Tuesday. And Bill Murray went to see it on Wednesday. Is Bill Murray fucking with us?

By all accounts he enjoyed the show, laughing and pumping his fist during musical numbers. Not all of us are destined for NYC this summer, but the good news is, you can catch Groundhog Day pretty much any old time, and here are but a few reasons why you should revisit this classic over and over again.

  1. Director Harold Ramis originally wanted Tom Hanks for the role but realized Hanks was “too nice” and went knocking elsewhere. Michael Keaton turned it down. Steve Martin, Chevy Chase, Alec Baldwin, Howie Mandel, Billy Crystal, Robin Williams, Kevin Kline, Harrison Ford, Mel Gibson, Kevin Costner and John Travolta were also considered before Bill Murray was cast.
  2. Harold Ramis has a cameo in the film as Phil’s neurologist. Also appearing, if you shannon-groundhog-day.jpgwatch dedicatedly enough: Michael Shannon in his big screen debut – he’s Fred, one of half of the young couple who’s supposed to get married that day.
  3. Although a family of groundhogs was raised specifically for this movie, when Bill Murray was severely bitten not once, but twice, he had to receive rabies treatment, which are rather painful injections.
  4. Although set in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, the film was actually filmed in Woodstock, Illinois, just 50 miles from Murray’s hometown, Wilmette. Tourism in Punxsutawney spiked after the film’s release, but it’s in Wilmette where you’ll find a small plaque that reads “Bill Murray stepped here” on the curb where Phil continually steps in a puddle, and another marked “Ned’s Corner” where Phil perpetually meets Ned the insurance salesman (Stephen Tobolowsky).
  5. There are 38 days depicted partially or in full in the movie. Ramis said originally he wanted about 10 000 years worth of days and ended up with what he considers to be a decade’s worth which is still a really, really, sad, lonely long time to be reliving the same day.
  6. Bill Murray was offered a “spit bucket” for the scene in which he gorges on pastries. That was a terrifically bad idea on his part…guess who got a tummy ache?
  7. In one scene, Phil throws the alarm clock, destroying it. In real life, Murray’s throw did little to damage the thing so the crew took baseball bats to it to smash it up. And yes, it really did keep playing that stupid song, just like in the movie.
  8. Murray was going through a divorce at the time and compensated by becoming obsessed with the movie, calling up Ramis with all kinds of questions. Ramis tired of it and sent the writer (Danny Rubin) to sit down with him and iron out all the wrinkles. This caused a rift in their friendship – Murray didn’t speak to Ramis for many years.
  9. When Phil is at the piano teacher’s house, it’s actually Bill Murray playing. He can’t read music but plays by ear, and learned that passage by heart to play it in the movie. [It’s Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme by Paginini, fyi]
  10. Harold Ramis, Bill Murray, and Stephen Tobolowsky have all served as honourary Grand Marshals in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania.
  11. In Swedish, the movie’s title is translated as “Monday Every Day” – although in 1993, when the movie came out, Groundhog Day was on a Tuesday. The specific day of the week is not mentioned in the film.
  12. In once scene, Phil throws himself from a bell tower. The building is actually the opera house in Woodstock, Illinois, where local legend has it that the ghost of a young girl haunts the building ever since she fell off a balcony section and died.
  13. uxyA34o.gifThe famous line “Don’t drive angry!” was improvised by Murray when the groundhog in his lap was aggressively trying to escape by climbing over the steering wheel. [Yes, this was one of the times when Bill got bit]
  14. In the final shot, we see Phil carry Rita over the gate before climbing over it himself. This may seem romantic but was unscripted: in real life, the gate was simply frozen shut.

Premium Rush

You know who drives me crazy?  Idiot cyclists who weave between cars, ignore the rules of the road, and inevitably get killed/seriously injured by an unlucky motorist.

You know who else drives me crazy?  Idiots who think that all lawyers wear suits or that lawyer is the only profession you can do with a law degree.

And don’t even get me started on idiots who are so EXTREMEpremium-rush-movie-wallpaper-20LY against wearing suits that they would rather take a job as a New York City bike courier and earn next to nothing ($30 for an hour and a half ride from one side of Manhattan to the other).

Joseph Gordon Levitt’s character in Premium Rush is all of those things.  Naturally, I hated Premium Rush.  What is most egregious, I think, is that if I put aside how angry Premium Rush made with its premise and main character, Premium Rush becomes a totally forgettable MacGuffin chase featuring one of the lamest villains in recent memory, whose motivation is his “poor impulse control”.  That means he’s selfish and willing to do anything to pay off his gambling debts so he can turn around and gamble some more, and of course that’s more important than whatever plans any other characters have for their lives or their money.  Not even Michael Shannon can give the bad guy more than one dimension.

You may like this movie if your fantasy is to take your bike-riding idiocy to the big stage of New York City (or I suppose you may also relate if your fantasy is to live a life of corruption in order to feed your gambling addiction, though in that case this movie may not have quite the ending you’re hoping for).  If that’s you then allow me to point out that you are a terrible person and I would rather you spend your time watching this movie than inflicting damage to those around you.  For everyone else, Premium Rush is one to avoid.