Tag Archives: Michelle Williams

I Feel Pretty

When the trailer for this movie came out several months ago, it hit a wall of backlash. This was NOT the moment for a movie with any kind of body-shaming. It appeared to be about a woman (Amy Schumer) who suffers a head injury and then wakes up believing herself to be beautiful. And since Schumer is already a conventionally pretty person, critics felt this merited a culture-wide eye roll. And while they’re not wrong, they don’t quite have the premise of the movie down pat.

What really happens: yes, there is a head injury that leads to Renee’s believing herself to be beautiful. But nobody is pretending that she wasn’t perfectly fine before – only that she suffered from low self-esteem and didn’t realize this herself. Which is a common enough thing.

So while the backlash may have been inspired by misconceptions, it’s not entirely wrong. Renee gains esteem not by empowerment but by delusion. She gets a new job MV5BNzE2NDUxMzctOWYwNC00MTkxLThkODctOGQwMTI4MzRjM2M3XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNDg2MjUxNjM@._V1_SY1000_SX1500_AL_(at a fashion magazine, working for squeaky-voiced Michelle Williams) and a new boyfriend (the perpetually bearded Rory Scovel) and attributes her newfound success to her newfound beauty. And her actions start to reflect those beliefs: she shames her friends (Busy Philipps, Aidy Bryant) for not emphasizing attractiveness and is less than faithful to her ‘nice’ boyfriend when she gets attention from a ‘hot’ guy. So is this purely a positive message? No it is not. But there’s a good intention somewhere in there about how anyone, no matter how they look (*cough*Emily Ratajkowski*cough*), can suffer from low self-esteem. And it’s confidence, not looks, that actually attract good things your way.

Written and directed in a joint effort by Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein, I can’t help but feel weird about the mixed messages on screen. Like, obviously we’re not supposed to judge a woman’s worth by her looks, and yet we’re encouraged to laugh at Schumer’s “bikini body” as she writhes around on stage. It’s played for laughs. But it’s also pretty powerful commentary if you consider how much that scene makes you uncomfortable. Because societally, we somehow don’t believe that someone who looks anything short of perfection should have body confidence. We shame women for not covering up their flaws. We don’t think that someone who looks like Schumer, who, let’s remember, IS actually living up to conventional beauty standards, even belongs in a beauty pageant or a bikini contest because that’s for one kind of very, very limited beauty that is all but unattainable.

Messaging aside, is this a fun movie to watch? I’d say yes, but it’s inconsistent. I had two REALLY big laughs that I’m ashamed to even admit to, because one was just a computer noise that struck me as totally tragic and genius. But if the message lacks conviction, so do the jokes. In North America, we’ll forgive almost anything if it’s funny enough. I Feel Pretty is not. Sure it doesn’t tell us that looking 19 and weighing less than 120 is the be all and end all, it just tells us that if you’re confident despite those things, it’s funny as hell. Being a woman is tough enough as it is. I just don’t have the 19 year old abs to laugh at this stuff anymore.

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Wonderstruck

Wonderstruck tells two parallel stories, set 50 years apart. In one, a little girl named Rose travels to New York City to track down her mother, a famous silent film star, circa 1927. New York City is no place for a kid traveling alone but Rose, who is deaf, is brave and smart. Meanwhile, in 1977, Ben is another runaway on the loose after his mother dies and an accident leaves him newly deaf. Determined to find the father he never knew, he too heads for New York City. And since you’ve surely seen a movie before, you can probably guess that at some point these stories will somehow intersect.

Millicent Simmonds, deaf in real life, had no prior acting experience before being 20Wonderstruck-web1-superJumbocast, but she wowed both director Todd Haynes and Julianne Moore with her audition. On set she communicated primarily through an American Sign Language interpreter, while Haynes sent many cast members on a walk through NYC wearing noise-cancelling headphones to get a sense of the city’s quiet side. Rose’s portions of the film are shot in black and white, and Simmonds has a terrific face for it – curious and expressive, her eyes lighting the way.

Oakes Fegley plays Ben, a kid who feels orphaned and is further isolated when he loses his hearing. Unlike Rose, his deafness feels more like an obstacle – he  hasn’t yet learned to navigate the world without hearing. And neither have we, but Haynes occasionally immerses us is quiet, the sort of quiet that feels pregnant with possibility.

Todd Haynes is the king of period pieces, and Wonderstruck affords him the opportunity to hit the jackpot: double periods! Nobody could embrace it any better. And he certainly has a knack for delighting us visually, bringing art to life, and cities to life, and museums to life, and inner life to life. What he stumbles with are the required shifts in tone. We flip back and forth between the two children’s stories and Haynes has tried to make each story line look and feel distinct. But those shifts can feel abrupt. Haynes drenches us in visual poetry but there’s an emotional disconnect that kept me from being truly wonderstruck. The sets are great, the costumes are great, the score is really something, but the parts somehow add up to just an okay whole. It lacks in whimsy but there is still joy to be found in discovering something new.

 

 

***And since we’re all here and you’re every so kindly reading, can we just take a minute to consider this: first-run movies are rarely accessible to deaf people. They often have to attend special screenings, or use special equipment, and if those aren’t available, they’re waiting for a DVD. There’s an easy fix. Why not make movies more accessible by simply captioning them?

All The Money in the World

In 1973, masked men kidnapped a teenager off the streets of Rome. He was the favourite American grandson of J. Paul Getty, the richest man in the world. Nobody gets that rich by being nice, and Getty is not. And of all the shitty things he is, miserly is one of them. You don’t get to be a billionaire by spending your money, after all. So when the kidnappers demand $17 million for him, Getty refuses. “Very little in life is worth paying full price for” he says, but he doesn’t plan to negotiate, he plans on just not paying. “It’s an awful lot of money for such a young boy.” But you can imagine how well that goes over with Junior’s mother.

JPG III, 16 at the time of his kidnapping, has a strong-willed mother, Gail, and thank god. But Gail (Michelle Williams) has no money of her own and no access to her allthemoney2former father-in-law’s fortune. Getty (Christopher Plummer) is pretty set in his ways, and to avoid dealing with his mouthy daughter-in-law, he sends his “security guy” Chase (Mark Wahlberg) to do the dealing for him. But will this weird and uneasy alliance be enough to save Junior (Charlie Plummer, no relation)? If you were alive at the time you likely already know the answer.

If you’re alive right now and not willfully burrowing under some very thick boulders, you’ve probably heard that Kevin Spacey was originally tapped to play Getty Senior. Spacey’s creepy past caught up with him just a month before this film was to be released, which left producers scrambling. Ultimately, director Ridley Scott decided to reshoot Getty’s 22 scenes with another actor who had read for the part, Christopher Plummer. They filmed for 10 days and then frantically re-edited, and what results is a role for which Plummer received an Oscar nomination. Mark Wahlberg had costar approval built into his contract, and he refused to approve Plummer unless he got paid an additional $1.5M to come in for the reshoots. This eventually blew up in his face when it was reported that Michelle Williams only received her per diem of $800 per day. Wahlberg ended up donating the $1.5M to the #TimesUp campaign to stem the backlash. It’s fair to say this movie was under a lot of scrutiny before it was ever released, and I admit I wondered if Plummer’s nomination was perhaps just a reward to the film’s production crew for so quickly doing the right thing, but now I just think it unfairly overshadowed what is indeed an Oscar-worthy performance – by Michelle Williams.

All The Money In The World obviously has a lot to say about the soul-suckingness of money, at its centre is an old man with a corroded heart, but Christopher Plummer manages to play him with just a touch of warmth, which is an interesting surprise. There’s a compelling story here with great acting (with the exception of Wahlberg, who isn’t so much bad as just useless, extraneous), but the movie is just a little muddled (and a little fond of unadorned exposition). It flits between genres – family drama, crime, thriller. At its core though it’s really about this epic tug-of-war between a frantic mother and a cold grandfather, the struggle between love and money, and that’s a story that never gets old.

 

 

The Greatest Showman

Phineas Taylor Barnum was a showman first and foremost. His legacy includes a best-selling memoir, museums, philanthropy, and a circus who just closed its doors earlier this year, after something in the neighbourhood of 175 years of success. The Greatest Showman is the story of his life, only not: it’s the fictionalized, glamourized, told-in-an-entertaining-and-succinct-105-minutes version that somewhat resembles his life, or at least a rags-to-riches edition of it. It’s not historically or personally accurate but it IS beautiful and breath taking and fun. In fact, it’s the most excited I’ve felt at the movies all year.

Hugh Jackman has already established himself as a versatile actor: he makes Logan, a veritable man of steel, seem both tough and vulnerable. Here he straddles Barnum’s pursuit of fame, money, and success with his more modest but fulfilling tumblr_os9fxwinjy1qd4rf5o2_500.gifgoals of happiness and family. Ultimately we see Barnum find both fame and family in the circus. He collects ‘freaks’ and ‘sideshows’ and gives them purpose and a platform. People pay the price of admission to look on in sensational horror.

The film is glossy, a glory to look at, and a wonder to hear. It’s a musical, with lyrics by Tony-winning (Dear Evan Hansen) and Oscar-winning (La La Land) duo, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. A mashup of modern-sounding, toe-tapping, pop and hip hop, the music reflects an aesthetic that isn’t so much true to the time period, but more a tribute to Barnum’s constantly being ahead of his time. With dazzling, daring cinematography by Seamus McGarvey (Life, Nocturnal Animals, Atonement) and buoyant, irrepressible, vibrant production design by Nathan Crowley (Dunkirk, Interstellar, The Dark Knight trilogy), The Greatest Showman is a work of art by veteran professionals – except for its director. Michael Gracey had in fact never directed any movie at all before – why, then, did 20th Century Fox trust him with 80 million dollars and a promising script, co-written by Bill Condon, Oscar nominee for best adapted screenplay for Chicago, and winner for Gods and Monsters?

Hugh Jackman met Michael Gracey 8 years ago when Gracey directed him in a TV commercial in Rio de Janiero. The two hit it off creatively, and within months Jackman was suggesting him as the director a passion project of his, and with Jackman on board as star and producer, it only took about a hundred pitches or so before someone finally said yes. Yes! And true to the Barnum name, the movie wouldn’t just be a musical, it would be over the top, larger than life, bursting at the seems with spectacle.

In addition to Jackman, the cast boasts the likes of Michelle Williams as his long-tumblr_os9no4BmGt1qk2b83o5_r1_540.gifsuffering wife, Charity, Zac Efron as his business partner, Zendaya as a talented trapeze artist, and Rebecca Ferguson as the songstress who legitimizes his success (though credit for her amazing voice goes to Loren Allred, who dubs her in the film).

The Greatest Showman is like the best parts of Big Fish and Moulin Rouge smooshed together. It lit my heart aglow. If you’re looking for a true account of PT Barnum’s life, read a book. What The Greatest Showman offers is a damn good time at the movies, so see it in theatres, on the big screen, the way it was meant to be seen. Hugh Jackman will thank you for it.

Manchester By The Sea: Discussion

If you’re looking for a spoiler-free review of the film, please see Matt’s excellent offering. I don’t want to ruin the movie for anyone, but if you’ve seen the film, then you understand the need to discuss it. It’s deeply affecting and disturbing and it’s one of the best things I’ve seen this year.

When Lee’s brother dies, the reclusive janitor reluctantly returns to his hometown to help out with the arrangements. He’s kept there longer than expected when he’s revealed to be his nephew’s new guardian.

Casey Affleck stars as Lee, a spook more than a man, a ghost still barely among the living, haunted by his past, carrying a huge burden of guilt, grief, and regret that we can almost physically see sitting atop his slumped shoulders. His performance is really restrained, as befits an emotionally blunted character. He manages to be subtle and to find lots of power in quiet moments. His performance will almost certainly be rewarded with an Oscar nomination, if not a win. What do you think his chances are? Did you see anyone out-act him this year? And what part do you think the allegations of sexual harassment against him will play in whether or not he wins?

Lee has a new life in a new town, though it’s pretty clearly only a half-life at best, given his physical and emotional isolation. During his questioning by the police, it’s clear that Lee feels he should be punished, and directly after he tries to take his own life. While clearly still trying to punish himself, do you think Lee is still suicidal?  When he tells Patrick “I can’t beat this thing” – is he talking about depression, guilt, grief? His reputation? Or something else?

I thought the movie started off pretty slow, but looking back on it with context, I wonder if the lethargy was deliberately representative of Lee’s depression. The movie never says the D-word, but certainly exhibits all the Hallmarks: violent outbursts, hopelessness, emptiness, the inability to enjoy life or take pleasure from thinks you used to enjoy, pushing people away.

The idea for the story didn’t originate with writer-director Kenneth Lonergan: in fact, it was Matt Damon and John Krasinski who came to him with the idea and asked him to develop the script. Damon would star and direct. But conflicts with The Martian prohibited him from doing so, and they turned control of the movie over to Lonergan. Do you think Lonergan stands a chance for best screenplay, or for that matter, best director?

The script is often praised for its “masculinity” which rubs me the wrong way. I don’t think Lee’s refusal to deal with anything should be lauded in any way, and his continued self-torture isn’t exactly gender specific. But the story is told in a refreshingly sparse sort of way, where the lead character speaks only under duress, and as a little as possible. And so much is implied rather than spoken outright: the unspeakable things his ex wife said to him, the town’s rejection of him, his own struggle with addiction, his attachment to pain,  his father’s death, the legal proceedings\media scrutiny that must have surrounded his case. Was there anything you felt the film missed? Any glaring holes you needed to see filled?

Some people felt the score was sufficiently bad to pull them out of some of the movie’s most impactful scenes (the house fire, in particular). Did you notice the score being good, bad, or ugly? Were there any stand-out supporting performances for you? Did you think the nephew, Patrick, was a realistic character? He really showcases the dark humour of the film, but sometimes I thought it odd how adult he seemed for a 15 year old.

We see Patrick trying to reconnect with his mother, who seems to have sobered up and carved out some sort of life with her new conservative Christian husband. But she’s not stable. She can’t handle things not going well. What purpose do you think this subplot served? Was it jarring or distracting for you to have Matthew Broderick in the role of her husband? Did you feel sympathy for the mother?

In the scene where Patrick’s girlfriend’s Mom comes out to Lee’s car to invite him for dinner and he says no, she responds that if he changes his mind in the next 10 minutes, “we’ll all be here”. The night of the fire, Lee remembered about the fireplace grate 10 minutes into his walk. He could have changed his mind, gone home, and his wife and kids would have all still been there. But he didn’t, and that scene is such a brutal reminder. What scene was the most emotionally engaging for you?

I think when Joe makes Lee the guardian, Joe is telling him: “You’re a good dad. I trust you with my kid. It’s not your fault.” And Lee can’t handle that. It’s too much like being absolved, and Lee cannot stand to be forgiven. In some ways, the guilt might be his only connection to his girls, and he’s unwilling to give it up. He doesn’t believe he deserves a second chance. Do you think there’s any hope for Lee?

Lee’s common refrain, uttered when things get too intense, is “Can we talk about this later?” only there is no later. We never see Lee deal openly with his emotions. He never lets us in. The audience is denied closure: how well has this film sat with you? Were you able to connect with a character who is so detached?

manchester-by-the-sea-boatI noticed that in flash back scenes with the 3 Chandler men aboard the boat, there was a big white pole stretched across the back of the craft, but in more recent scenes where just Lee and Patrick take to open waters, the pole is noticeably absent. Do you think this loss of a safety net is symbolic of anything else?

I felt like the film really addressed the ways in which we can judge parents. Clearly the town blames Lee for the accident that took the lives of his children. This is hammered home when he has a close call making dinner – he passes out and wakes up to an angry fire alarm. Some may see this as further evidence of his negligence, but who among us hasn’t made a similar mistake? Either way, it seems to be a catalyst for him giving up guardianship. Maybe it’s that his own self-doubt will never abate. One mistake proved fatal to his young family, and it’s clear that society has judged him harshly for it, perhaps because it makes us feel more insulated from our own mistakes. What really slapped me in the face though was when Lee is trying to make awkward conversation with Patrick’s girlfriend’s mother. I think she knows what is most likely going on in her daughter’s bedroom and she says something like “At least we know where they are.” Lee, however, knows damn well that kids are not necessarily safer in their own homes. No wonder he couldn’t get the conversation back on track. Even the most banal things paralyze him with fear. Remember how he overreacts when his nephew tries to exit the truck at the hospital when Lee thought he was meant to drive off? He admits that he just “gets scared” and his mind immediately goes to the worst possible scenario. In part, parenting often means confronting those fears. We try to keep our children safe but have to come to terms with the fact that we won’t always be there. Lee could have changed his mind just 10 minutes into his walk; 30 minutes later, his kids were dead. When he gets the phone call about his brother, he rushes to the hospital only to discover that Joe died an hour ago. He didn’t make it back on time. He wasn’t there. He couldn’t save him. There are so many near misses. But his reaction here is so real and raw. Do you think this sets the tone for the film? Does it foreshadow some of the later revelations?

One thing that I found very profound and very interesting is that the movie levels diseases. Three main characters suffer from disease: Kyle Chandler’s character from congenital heart disease, Casey Affleck’s from depression, and Gretchen Mol’s from addiction. None of them can “beat it.” But just as in real life, sympathy is usually only given to physical illness, whereas mental illness is stigmatized, and certainly here Joe is practically remembered as a saint whereas the other two are vilified.

We’re used to happy endings, or at least hopeful ones, but this one does little to console us. The ending is a bit abrupt, and just as bleak as the rest of the movie. Lee has sentenced himself to returning to the prison cell he’s built for himself. The only difference is that now he’s maybe possibly open to visitation. But could it have ended any other way?

 

In addition to discussing these points in the comments, feel free to ask your own questions, and to link to your own reviews.

 

 

Manchester by the Sea

I knew going into Manchester by the Sea that it was one of the most critically acclaimed American movies of the century so far but I was still somehow surprised by how blown away I was.

Kenneth Lonergan has made a fantastic film about family, grief, and how easy it is to push people away when we’re hurting. It’s one of 2016’s best films not because it has any particularly new ideas or innovative style but simply because it’s refreshingly honest.

Casey Affleck (believe the hype, he kills it in this) plays Lee Chandler, a reclusive janitor who returns to his hometown after the sudden death of his brother (played by Kyle Chandler). Lee is surprised to learn that he will need to be staying home a lot longer than he had planned when he discovers that his brother’s will has named him as the guardian of his teenage nephew (Lucas Hedges). Losing a brother and raising a grieving teenager is further complicated by the memories of unspeakable pain and tragedy that his hometown holds.

Manchester by the Sea isn’t always pleasant but, with its sense of dark humour, never feels like a chore. Lonergan is an expert at finding humour in the unlikeliest of situations without it ever feeling forced. Actually, nothing really feels forced. It’ll make you feel powerful emotions without resorting to sentimentality. Even its non-linear structure doesn’t feel like a gimmick.

And there’s not a bad performance to speak of. Affleck has never been better and his scenes with Hedges are priceless. 2016 Golden Globe nominee Michelle Williams makes great use of her limited screen time as Lee’s ex-wife in her emotionally rawest performances in years.

Go see it!