Tag Archives: Naomi Watts

The Book of Henry

Henry (Jaeden Lieberher) is the smartest, most responsible 11 year old you’ll ever meet. He takes care of his little brother Peter (Jacob Tremblay) in the schoolyard and he takes care of his single mother Susan (Naomi Watts) financially. I mean, she’s got income, but he’s the financial planner. He even wants to take care of the girl next door who he thinks may be abused by her stepfather, Glenn (Dean Norris). Henry’s heart is as big as his IQ, and he challenges everyone around him to be their best, which can be a lot to live up to if you’re Henry’s little brother, or worse, his mother.

Anyway, Henry is a force of nature and he’s determined to do right by his next door the-book-of-henry1neighbour, Christina. She’s silent on the subject, but he’s seen the bruises and feels compelled to act, even if the adults in his life won’t. His moral compass is ginormous. It’s tricky, though, because Glenn is the police commissioner and may be too powerful to touch. Henry makes careful plans.

But what if an eleven year old boy can’t actually carry them out? His mother finds his notebook and is guilted, and perhaps guided by said compass, to act upon it.

This film was not well-received by critics but was for the most part enjoyed by audiences, including myself. It’s directed by Colin Trevorrow, kind of a departure since he’d previously directed Jurassic World, and is the co-writer of Star Wars: Episode IX. In its way, with its modest budget, The Book of Henry also bears the marks of Trevorrow’s childlike fascination. Henry may be precocious, but there’s a sense of wonder to the movie that’s quite appealing. But it’s also an ambitious movie; its shifts in tone startling at times, and perhaps not always successful.

The characters are inconsistently realistic and their actions even more so, but some terrific performances go a long way to grounding those characters. Naomi Watts is playing an imperfect but loving mother; I don’t know from where she draws inspiration, but she gives Susan a believable base, hard as that may be. Jacob Tremblay has a meatier role than just kid brother but he’s more than equal to the task. He’s already proven he’s more than just an adorable face. Jaeden Lieberher (you know him from St Vincent, and Midnight Special) as Henry has the hardest job of all. Henry is brilliant (he prefers precocious) but he is still a kid, after all, so he has to be steadfast, confident, but still vulnerable. This script asks a lot of its actors and in some ways the cast is what this movie gets most right.

The Book of Henry crosses genres, and that’s its weakness. There’s a silliness that sometimes dilutes the tension. I don’t mind a movie reaching beyond its limits, but this one doesn’t seem to have a firm destination in mind. What movie did you mean to be? I’m not sure. But I still enjoyed it on the whole, even while mentally noting all thing things I could have done better myself.

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Sunlight, Jr.

Melissa and Richie have a pretty humble existence. They live in a motel room. He’s disabled, she works at a gas station where she’s stalked by her drug-dealing ex-boyfriend. It’s a charmless kind of life, dictated by poverty. It’s kind of dismal, but they have each other, and when they learn there’s a baby on the way, suddenly everything seems possible.

Unexpected pregnancy on a minimum wage salary is not my idea of “good luck” but sunlight_jr_2_pubswhen Melissa loses her job and she and Richie get evicted from their home, the good days are clearly behind them. The cycle of poverty’s got a pretty nasty pull on them, and in many ways this feels like a companion piece to The Florida Project, though this one’s already five years old.

The Florida Project’s a little more palatable to watch. Told from the perspective of children, the poverty feels less oppressive, or at least it’s more optimistic. In this one, however, Melissa (Naomi Watts) and Richie (Matt Dillon) are middle-aged. They’ve made their choices. There doesn’t seem to be much room for second chances.

Naomi Watts is incredible in almost everything she’s in. The problem here is not the acting, but that the acting can’t possibly do much with a sometimes remarkably stilted script. Despite some empathetic performances, the script has zero uplift. It’s tough to watch, though it is a tribute to an experience authentic to too many Americans. Watts and Dillon may be mis-cast. I hate how work dries up for aging actresses, but the fact is, she’ll be 50 this year, so she’s hardly in fertile young American territory anymore. There are loads more people who’d be far more appropriate.

Still, nothing’s really going to make this movie great. It has good intentions but can’t quite connect emotionally. It’s tedious, gray, and doesn’t care to resolve any of the adversity encountered: tragic in many sense of the word.

The Glass Castle

Jeannette Walls lived a turbulent childhood: her parents bustled her and her 3 siblings from town to town, evading bill collectors, never quite having enough money for both food and her father’s insatiable thirst. Poverty and addictions pock her youth, but for all their struggles, her mother would never leave her father, and the kids soon realized they’d need to fend for themselves, each disappearing to the big city as soon as it was feasible (a real challenge when someone is constantly drinking up all the money).

Walls went on to write a memoir detailing the hardships she lived through, and that tgc_d02_00156_00157_comp_r2.jpgbook became this movie, though something was lost getting from A to B. The book pulls no punches. Her parents are complex characters, and their children have conflicted feelings toward them. The movie’s a little more pat, the trajectory a little more Hollywood. Someone decided to apply some spit shine to this story, a story that’s naturally very dark and brooding now has themes of hope and redemption that maybe don’t belong.

I can’t say what exactly is wrong with the film except it’s just too easy. The grit is gone. Sure Jeannette’s father Rex is charming but he’s also kind of a monster. He’s a negligent parent who abuses his wife and kids and helps keep family molestation on the down low. And of course he wants deathbed forgiveness. Meanwhile his wife is a “free spirit” who chooses homelessness over independence from the man threatening her family’s well being. Neither parent is capable of putting their children’s needs first, or of meeting those needs even if they ever did. Which they don’t.

But The Glass Castle is worth a watch for the performances alone. As Jeannette, Brie Larson lives up to her previous Oscar win, but it’s Woody Harrelson as Rex who you’ll remember. He’s tortured and endearing and inspiring and hateful. Is this the film he’ll win his Oscar for? I wouldn’t be disappointed if he did. But shame on Hollywood for trying to put gloss and a positive spin on childhood poverty. These kids were failed not just by their parents but by the system. And now their brave story is being watered down to make it more palatable for film audiences. Shame.

Shut In

Mary (Naomi Watts) is a single mother caring for her severely disabled stepson, Stephen (Charlie Heaton), alone in their home ever since her husband passed. Her work as a child psychologist supports them but she’s finding it hard to keep up since Stephen is her whole life but is really only an empty shell.

Meanwhile, Mary is preoccupied with a young patient, Tom (Jacob Tremblay). He’s deaf and her work with him has gone slowly but just as she believes progress is being made, shut1his case worker is yanking him away to yet another group home. Tom has bounced around in the foster care system and Mary’s compassion is inflamed. Tom runs away one wintry night, and the fact that he seems to have run to her home briefly for refuge preys on her imagination. As the days go by and a powerful winter storm pummels them, townspeople give Tom up for dead but Mary becomes haunted by his ghost.

Virtually alone in an old house save for her vegetative stepson, Mary’s nightmares become our nightmares. Is this movie heart-pounding? It was for me. I don’t watch scary movies very often but was drawn to this for the cast, and Naomi Watts does not disappoint. But even a relative novice to the genre such as myself can feel what a retread this script is; there’s nothing new or original here, and the fear factor dips because of its obviousness.

Some beautiful cinematography helps establish a sense of isolation here, but it’s largely useless when the script goes for weak jump-scares and ignores what should have been lush with psychological horror instead. I kept thinking of this movie as “the one with Vera Farmiga” which it is not – but it is an awful lot like the one that is, and many others besides. If you have a hankering for white-lady-haunted-by-child-ghost, well, here it is. Again. But I bet you could do better.

Tank Girl

This movie speaks to the 90s kid in all of us and was MADE for cult status, which is to say, it isn’t very good. But it was quite quotable and a little risque, which is really all it took back in 1995. tank-girl-323And of course Lori Petty fulfilled all our alt-chick fantasies.

Tank Girl is based on a badass British comic strip but of course lost most of its uniquely British humour in the Hollywood rewrites. Studios, in fact, objected to a lot of the original material, such as showing Tank Girl in bed with her half-kangaroo boyfriend, this DESPITE the fact that it was a waste of a perfectly good $5000 10-inch prosthetic penis.

The year is 2033. We’re post apocalypse, naturally, and there’s been no rain for 11 straight years. Tank Girl and friends live in a wasteland fighting the oppression of “Water & Power’ led by Malcolm McDowell.

Audiences turned out to be mostly apathetic, and critics unkind, but it soon garnered an 4094473-2266063370-15327underground cult following who love the feminist, anti-heroine themes, and who can blame them? Flaws aside, Tank Girl IS a lot of fun to watch. She’s brash and bombastic and despite the fact that it’s the end of the world, she’s got an unending 90s-fabulous wardrobe. And as incredible as Petty is in the part, it’s also fun to occasionally see her animated counterpart leap into action.

I mean, in what other movie could you seek revenge for the prostitution of young kids to pedophiles by humiliating the pimp (or, well, madame) by making her sing Cole Porter at gunpoint? And in what other world would drought and murder combine to make the most fabulous weapon of recycling ever (because the human body is of course 60% water, and waste not, want not)?

Unlike most comic book movies where women are sexually objectified (or just plain absent), Tank Girl was herself sex-positive and comfortable in her dominance. She is competent, anti-establishment, strong, and fierce. Her sidekick, Jet Girl, is brilliant but less confident – and worth checking out because it’s probably the earliest we American audiences saw Naomi Watts, in a movie she now claims to be ashamed of.

Possibly the best thing about the movie is its obligatory 90s-alt soundtrack, assembled by Tank-GirlCourtney Love, and including tracks by Bjork, Bush, Portishead, Hole, Joan Jett, Veruca Salt, and of course Ice T (because he costars).

With a proud place on Luke Buckmaster’s list of 10 “weirdest superhero films”, it’s really something that has to be seen to be understood. Love it or hate it, it’s a film with longevity, and begs the question: is Tank Girl due for a remake?

 

 

Tank Girl can be seen on the big screen this Wednesday, July 13th in Toronto at The Carlton.

The Divergent Series: Allegiant

About a year ago, Wandering Through the Shelves had us binge-watching Movies Based on Young Adult Novels. The first two films in the Divergent series were neither the best or the worst things I watched that week. They’re not great- even “good” would be a stretch- but I was won over by the decency and unlikely strength of Tris (Shailene Woodley). I also couldn’t have done without the effortless charisma of Miles Teller as Peter, who brings much-needed personality to a series that takes itself way too seriously whenever he’s not on screen.

In the first two films in the series, the citizens (prisoners?) of Chicago have been assigned factions based on their defining trait (athletic, honest, kind, smart, and selfless). I’ve always found this basic premise to be a little lazy and a pretty adolescent view of the world but, hey, it’s young adult fiction. Besides, it’s what makes Divergent Divergent. To do away with these factions would be like the Twilight series continuing without any vampires or werewolves of the Fifty Shades series going straight edge. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what this series does.

Allegiant picks up where Insurgent left off, immediately after the fall of the faction system. Without it, not only does Chicago lose control over its population but the story loses its focus and coherence. Fearing that Evelyn, (Naomi Watts) is becoming as oppressive a leader as Kate Winslet’s character had been, five young adults venture over the walls. What follows is sillier than the other two films combined, exposition-heavy, and impossible to follow. Tris, the heroic non-conformist of the story, somehow starts towing the party line. Woodley does her best to keep her interest but it’s tough not to be frustrated with her when everyone onscreen and in the audience thinks it’s obvious that she’s being played. Even Miles Teller’s shtick is getting old. Pick a side, buddy!

The Divergent series isn’t really made for adults and for all I know may please its target audience. Because most 16 year-olds wouldn’t be interested in our site and most of our readers wouldn’t be interested in this series, you might wonder why I’d even bother reviewing it. To that, I can only say “Jeff Daniels”. Daniels, joining Winslet, Watts, Octavia Spencer, and Ray Stevenson, becomes the latest good actor over 40 to have his talents wasted by this trite material. How so many good actors got involved in this series, I have no idea. But judging by their performances, I can tell it’s not because they wanted to be there. By the third film, their talents are no longer just wasted. They’re giving bad performances.

What’s happening in Hollywood that the likes of Naomi Watts and Jeff Daniels need a job this badly? Or that any filmmaker could become so distracted by their pretty but mostly boring young stars that they would forget to give Oscar-winner Octavia Spencer even a single key scene?

This is why I care enough about this series to write about it.

TIFF 2015: About Ray/3 Generations

about ray

I was absolutely blown away by the trailer for Gaby Dellal’s new family drama about a teenager (Elle Fanning) who seeks signatures from both parents allowing her to begin the process of sex reassignment surgery. My only concern going in was how the currently trending topic of anything trans would be dealt with. Would it be sensationalized or exploitation? Would it struggle so hard to stay PC that it wouldn’t say anything at all? Would Dellal take advantage of all the press surrounding the subject matter to produce shameless and obvious Oscar bait?

All my fears were laid to rest almost immediately. Dellal introduced the film saying that About Ray was not a story about someone who was transgender. It’s a story about family. This turned out to be absolutely true. The three leads (including Naomi Watts and Susan Sarandon as Fanning’s mother and grandmother) don’t play one-dimensional symbols of courage. These characters- as well as their house-  look completely lived-in. Having to adjust to thinking of their (grand)daughter as a (grand)son is only a small part of the story of this family’s bond and conflicts. Fanning, Sarandon, and Watts are more than up for the challenge. They even look like a family.

About Ray is complex and always entertaining (eliciting laughs from Sunday morning’s audience in almost every scene) and never preachy. See it.

 

Note: when we saw this movie at TIFF, it was called About Ray. Now that it’s finally hitting theatres May 5, it has been renamed ‘Three Generations.’

TIFF 2015: Demolition

Demolition

Not only was my promise to Jay, based on my previous TIFF experience, that getting tickets to her favourite films would be a cinch with a festival pass a little too optimistic, it turns out picking them up once they’re already paid for can be a nightmare of its own. Jay, Sean, and I stood in three different lines at once (thankfully we had strength in numbers) and barely caught our noon screening of Demolition this afternoon.

From up in the balcony at Roy Thomson Hall, I advised Jay and Sean to learn to love the TIFF commercials at the beginning of the screenings because they’ll be seeing a lot of them. There were more than I remembered it turned out and the woman sitting next to me was already yawning by the time the movie started.

I am happy- even relieved to report that Demolition, the much-anticipated collaboration between Jake Gyllenhaal and Jean-Marc Valle, was well worth the wait. Jake and co-star Naomi Watts may have been no-shows at the third and final screening but a sure-of-himself Vallee was onstage to introduce and answer questions about the most “rock and roll movie I’ve ever made”.

Gyllenhaal, on a hot streak lately, is never short of compelling as Davis, a successful investment banker who becomes both destructive and self-destructive after the death of his wife. Davis becomes obsessed with taking things apart and discovering how they work. With nothing left to lose, he starts saying what’s on his mind, giving Jake a chance to practice more of that fast-talking and disconnected delivery that worked so well in Nightcrawler.  Because Davis, unlike his character in Nightcrawler is anything but a psychopath, he gets a chance to being even more depth to his performance.

Also taking elements that have served him well in the past but taking it much further, Vallee – as pointed out by one member of the audience during the question period- has become an expert at stories of rebuilding and starting over after a tragic loss. The painful and beautiful memories are handled similarly as in last year’s Wild, with the sound and images as fading echoes instead of traditional flashback scenes  it works even better here, with the director having a much richer and surprisingly funny- script to work with.

This marks the first time I – usually too excited at a screening – have ever cried at TIFF but Demolition really is that powerful. I’m already emotionally drained with 11 movies left to go.

My TIFF Choices

I don’t know if the lineup at the Toronto International Film Festival is better this year than in previous years I’ve been but choosing my films and fitting them into my schedule is harder than ever. Maybe it’s because I prepaid for 12 tickets over a four-day period (my most ambitious itinerary yet), making the choices seem unlimited. Well, almost unlimited. Every time I choose a movie, I have to give up another one and I had forgotten how painful it can be to scratch something from my list.

Here’s what I’ve decided on. What do you think? Is anyone else going to TIFF? What’s made your list?

Friday, September 11

Demolition– Jean-Marc Vallée directs Jake Gyllenhaal and Naomi Watts in what sounds like anDemolition intense drama about a grieving investment banker who copes with the loss of his wife through what the TIFF website describes as “random acts of destruction”. Not sure what that means exactly (although the write-up goes on to say something about an office washroom stall) but both Gyllenhaal (Prisoners, Nightcrawler, and Southpaw) and Vallée (Dallas Buyers Club, Wild) have been killing it lately and I can’t wait to see what they can come up with together. My only regret is that I’ll be catching the last of three screenings at TIFF, making me worry that Jake may not bother to show up.

The LobsterThe Lobster– An enthusiastic reception from the Cannes jury convinced me to give this seemingly very strange movie a shot. Newly single Colin Farrell checks into a hotel where guests are given the task of finding a new partner within 45 days and the punishment of being turned into an animal and released into the wild if they fail. From Yorgos Lanthimos, a supposedly acclaimed Greek director that I’ve never heard of, I have no idea what I’m in store for here. I have a feeling that this bizarre-sounding film will either be my favourite that I see in Toronto this year or the most aggravating. Either way, I’m expecting to react strongly to it.

Sicario– Director Denis Villeneuve (Incendies, Prisoners) tackles the war on drugs in the latest Sicariocollaboration between Quebec filmmakers and American movie stars. Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin, and Benicio Del Toro make up an inter-agency task force that take on a dangerous mexican drug cartel and, from the sounds of it, will have to make some tough decisions about how far they’re willing to go. I picked Sicario out of the bunch because of Villeneuve, a very intersting filmmaker with a great eye and a bit of a dark side. His films are usually tough to shake off and I’m hoping this one will be too. You can see the trailer here.

Saturday September 12

Eye in the Sky– I’m hoping Helen Mirren, Alan Rickman, and Breaking Bad‘s Aaron Paul don’t eye in the skyparty too hard after Eye in the Sky’s premiere on Friday night because I’m hoping to see them all at 11:15 this morning. I love all three of them and the film’s plot- about an ends vs means dilemma concerning an innocent child in the line of fire of a drone targetting a terrorist. The synopsis on the TIFF website makes it sound like a mix of comedy of errors and topical thriller and this cast this concept sound promising, especially with the right script.

Ninth Floor– A Canadian documentary about the 1969 occupation of Sir George Williams University’s (now part of Concordia University in Montreal) by students protesting against the school’s systemic racism. I always try and catch at least one documentary when I visit the festival and I chose this one both because 1) I did my Undergrad at Concordia (they told us this story at ninth floororientation) and 2) the TIFF website sells this as not only an account of this one story but the larger story of how Canadian citizens and institutions hide their racism while boasting of their tolerance to the rest of the world. Check out the trailer here.

Hardcore– I try and see at least one Midnight Madness screening every year and I chose, partly through the process of elimination, this “non-stop, white-knuckle, crackerjack thrill ride” about a Russian super-soldier trying to save his wife from- get this- a “psychotic paramilitary psychic”. I love the rowdy mood of these midnight genre screening, a nice break from the more pretentious tone of some of the other screenings, but am not a horror fan. Because all the other Midnight films seem to be about Hell and demons and posession, I settled for this out-of-control action movie. Apparently it’s filmed almost entirely from the POV of the hero, which sounds intriguing. Hardcore even.

Sunday September 13

About Ray– Born female, Ray (Elle Fanning) has always felt he was born the wrong gender and about rayfinally feels ready to commit to the surgery. Only trouble is he needs the signed permission of both parents. Fanning, Naomi Watts, Susan Sarandon, and Tate Donovan star in this comedy-drama with an amazing trailer. Can’t wait for this one.

Closet Monster– Three years ago, I caught a TIFF screening of a fantastic Canadian film called Blackbird, which featured an impressive lead performance by a young actor named Connor jessup. Jessup returns to the festival this year with this surreal-sounding Canadian drama about an aspiring make-up artist in a small Newfoundland community where he feels suffocated and is haunted by increasingly vivid nightmares of coming out to his father. missing girl

The Missing Girl– A lonely middle-aged comic book store owner becomes obsessed with finding out what happened to his missing young employee when her disappearance triggers his adolescent memories of another missing girl. Not sure exactly what to expect here but the trailer has my attention.

Monday September 14

Remember– The great Christopher Plummer stars in what sounds to me like a Mementoish road trip thriller from Atom Egoyan (The sweet Hereafter). Plummer plays a nursing home resident rememberwhose memory is beginning to fail him. Before it’s too late, he must follow a step-by-step plan laid out for him by the mysterious Max (Martin Landau) to escape his nursing home and track down and kill the man who murdered his family 70 years ago. Check out the trailer. i can’t wait. Even if Plummer isn’t there to answer our questions, I’ll be happy just to see this.

freeheldFreeheld– I’m often skeptical about Based on a True Story movies if there’s even a chance that I’ll see even half of this cast on stage, I’m there. Ellen Page, Julianne Moore, Steve Carell, and Michael Shannon star in the story of a terminally ill police officer fighting for the right to pass on her pension benefits to her same-sex partnerIt runs the risk of being a little preachy but with this cast I’ll keep an open mind. Besides, it’s a story worth telling. Here’s the trailer.

Spotlight– With a trailer that looks just amazing, this based-on-fact drama about the Boston Globe’s investigation into the Catholic Church’s cover-up of sexual abuse at the hands of their priests stars Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, and Michael Keaton. It’s from the director of the amazing The Visitor and the not-so-amazing The Cobbler so it’s hard to tell how good it’s going to be but I’m daring to get my hopes up.

spotlight

 

While We’re Young

Alright! Another Noah Baumbach movie!

This is what I thought when i first heard about While We’re Young. It’s only when I IMDBed him that I realized that I had really only seen one of his movies. I missed Greenbeg. I don’t know how but I missed Frances Ha. But I saw The Squid and the Whale. Baumbach’s 2005 family drama was funny in the saddest way possible and I guess it left so much of an impression on me that I began to think of myself as a fan. But apparently not enough of one to actually watch his other While We're Youngfilms.

I did manage to catch his latest- While We’re Young- last week though. Like The Squid and the Whale, it’s funny in a sad way but much more laugh-out-loud funny, while TSATW was more cringe out-loud funny. Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts play  Josh and Cornelia- a forty-something married couple who are finding less and less in common with their friends that have little to talk about other than all the babies that they’re having. Josh starts worrying that his best days are behind him when he discovers that he has arthritis arthritis but all that changes when he meets Jamie and Darby- a couple of sensation-seeking twenty-somethings played by Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried. Hungry for new While We're Young 2experiences, Josh and Cornelia spend as much time with these new friends as they can and their relationship moves in some surprising directions.

Adam Driver has a weird presence on screen and I’m not sure how I feel about him yet but he and Seyfried are fun to watch as the young couple with surprisingly old-fashioned tastes. They believe it’s better to build a desk than to buy one. They have an extensive record collection while their older friends keep all their music online.. Baumbach doesn’t understand youngsters today any better than josh does though and the forty-somethings get all the best moments. He manages to keep Stiller’s While We're Young 3instinct to overplay everything to death mostly under control and Watts, in her fourth film since we started this site six months ago, is better than she’s been in a long time, especiallyl when she’s dancing to Tupac.

While We’re Young works best as a comedy about two people trying to be young again and is smart enough to keep it simple and relatable . It loses its focus by the end with a lot of bizarre turns in the last half hour but still gives us a lot to think about- especially when I realized I, at the age of 33, related to Josh and Cornelia a lot more than I did Jamie and Darby. Guess I’m due for another sacred puking ritual.