Tag Archives: Nicole Kidman

The Golden Compass

I watched this back in 2007 because I adored the book(s) (by Philip Pullman) and was optimistic. Oh 2007, the days of wild optimism.

The movie is…not good. It’s not rotten, there are some attempts at goodness, especially from Nicole Kidman and the visual effects department. But it’s like someone put The Golden Compass through a strainer to sift out all the best bits and made a movie with the wrong bowl.

Yes, movie studios were desperate to recreate that Harry Potter magic, but Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy was always a little more cumbersome than its wizarding counterpart; Pullman’s work was not specifically meant for young audiences. But some intrepid readers found him anyway, and loved the way he combined physics, philosophy, and theology but made them accessible via a young protagonist. Those are not exactly movie-friendly themes, and the trilogy’s criticism of religion was of course controversial. When the film got released, christians boycotted it for its anti-religion reputation but secularists balked at this theme’s dilution (and some would say absence).

The film shows the adventures of Lyra Belacqua (Dakota Blue Richards), an orphan living in a parallel universe where a dogmatic ruling power called the Magisterium opposes free inquiry and every person has their inner spirit manifested as an animal, which they call a daemon. Before settling into a single shape in adulthood, the deamons of young children tend to shape shift quite a lot. Which is not much use when children are being kidnapped by an unknown group called the Gobblers who are supported by the Magisterium. Lyra joins a tribe of seafarers on a trip to the far North, the land of the armoured polar bears, in search of the missing children.

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There’s more to it than that, a lot more to it. It’s not so bad when you’ve got the book in your hands. You can take a break when you need to think on things, or digest others. You can flip back a few pages, read with new insight and understanding. But movie audiences have to take what you’re given, and if a director foolishly tries to stuff too much detail into too thin a story, it’s not just overwhelming but it turns what should be a fun entertainment or a version of escapism into an exercise in fact sorting and memory retention.

There are some dazzling effects and I’m not going to lie: armoured polar bears are kinda the best. Which is why so many of us rooted so hard for the movie. But the movie was too self-important, too busy setting up the next in the series that it forgot to give us a satisfying experience in the present. Which, as you know, not only resulted in its poor performance at the box office, but it ground production on the next two to a complete and final halt. No one will reattempt this for another quarter century. Which is really too bad, because if you’ve read the book(s), you know there’s a compelling story in there, and it shouldn’t be this hard to tease it out.

Bombshell

Sean and I have had our eye on a tiny, forgotten movie theatre in the basement of a local shopping mall. It only shows films during mall hours, and it’s strictly second-run stuff: this is where movies go to die, these are their last breaths at the box office, and the last chance Sean and I will have to see them in theatres before the Oscars which ARE THIS WEEKEND. It’s where we saw Richard Jewell last week and it’s where we caught Bombshell this week. It came out just before Christmas, and between holiday prep and Rise of Skywalker, we never got around to it. Plus, word was that it was kind of a lame movie that housed some good performances. Of course once those Oscar nominations came out, the movie went from back burner to the pressure cooker: see 38 movies before February 9th, some of which aren’t in theatres and hardly where, and certainly not in this country or in a language that I speak (and that’s not counting the shorts!).

So when I finally got around to seeing Bombshell, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. True, Bombshell is all flame and no burning embers; it deals with the headline-grabbing sexual harassment case at Fox News circa 2016 and though it does justice to the headlines, it doesn’t offer up a lot of meat. However, it does an excellent job of spreading the heat and accounting for the experience of many.

Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman) is right in the middle of the blast. Having been with Fox in one capacity or another for years, Gretchen finds herself demoted, and reprimanded for covering stories deemed by network president Roger Ailes (John Lithgow) to be ‘too feminist’ and criticized for not upholding beauty standards when she dares to do one episode makeup-free. She’s seen the writing on the wall and when she’s let go in June of 2016, she’s ready with a lawsuit accusing Ailes of sexual harassment. She’s confident that once she breaks the ice, other women will come forward, but she’s forgetting just how pervasive the culture is at Fox news.

Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron), Roger’s golden girl, the tough reporter recently taking heat for questioning Trump’s behaviour toward women during a debate, has remained silent. No support for Gretchen, but none for Roger either, though the entirety of the organization seems to pressure her. Instead, she’s searching for the truth, quietly speaking with other women about their own experiences. Eventually she’ll make her way to Kayla (Margot Robbie), a composite character of a new girl trying to climb her way up the ladder. It’s pretty clear whose “ladder” she’ll have to “climb” in order to get anywhere – but ambition and livelihoods are inextricably tangled up in this thing, and it’s fairly clear that any woman who comes forward will have a permanent stain on her record, untouchable by any other network for having dared to make a complaint against her boss. That’s just not something women are allowed to get away with.

It’s shocking, actually, that it’s the women of Fox of all places that really got something done. They haven’t toppled the patriarchy; there were plenty of other white men to replace Ailes in more ways than one. Director Jay Roach shows how pervasive the boys’ club can be, and how women have been denied their own network by constantly being pitted against each other. There’s too much history here for any one film, too much damage to uncover let alone comprehend. Still, I like the attempt. I like all three of these performances even if Kidman got shut out of awards season. What I dislike is that this very important story told (written and directed) by men. Which kind of misses the point altogether.

TIFF19: The Goldfinch

I mean, who’s NOT excited to see a film adapted from a 784 page, Pulitzer-prize winning novel about a missing piece of art? Sean Taylor, that’s who. He did, however, make use of the film’s 147 minute run time to have a hearty nap. Hands lightly clasped, mouth totally agape, he slept, and he slept hard, for 60 of the film’s first 65 minutes. So when he did wake up, I wondered what the point was in staying. Surely he was lost. Surely there would be no rejoining the movie at this point.

But the truth is, wide awake as I was and always had been, I wasn’t any more into it. And yes, I had read Donna Tartt’s novel, which has been bowing my bookcase ever since.

The Goldfinch is about a little boy who visits a museum with his mother, who then perishes when the museum is bombed in a terrorist attack. Having survived the bombing, young Theo (Oakes Fegley) wanders around the ruins, searching for his mother, until an old man stops him, and with his dying breath, implores him to take a painting, Fabritius’ The Goldfinch.

Basically orphaned, Theo is sent to live with classmate’s family (Nicole Kidman plays the mother). He befriends the old man’s business partner, Hobie (Jeffrey Wright) and another young survivor, a cute redhead named Pippa, who sustained brain damage in the attack. But just as he’s maybe settling into this new, motherless life, his deadbeat dad (Luke Wilson) shows up, with a surprise girlfriend (Sarah Paulson) in tow, and whisks him off to live in a deserted Vegas suburb of foreclosed homes. His only friend is a boy named Boris (Finn Wolfhard), who’s got some questionable habits, though not nearly as objectionable as his dad’s, as it turns out.

Cut to: adult Theo (Ansel Elgort) is an antiques dealer, working with Hobie in New York City, trying his best just to cope with the lingering effects of the attack, trying hard not to be held hostage by the trauma. He’s held onto this painting, a very historied and valuable painting, all these years, secretly of course, allowing the rest of the world to believe this priceless artifact was destroyed in the bombing along with so much else. But that is not the case.

Can you imagine what this painting might represent to a young orphaned boy, having saved it from the very same rubble in which his mother’s body lay? Director John Crowley cannot. In 2.5 hours, the painting is not a symbol of hope, or a replacement parent, or the receptacle of grief and loss. It’s just a dead thing underneath a kid’s bed, as if it means nothing. In fact, the movie itself means nothing, but it takes an agonizingly long time establishing this nothingness. On and on, with lots of things happening yet none of it finding meaning. And worse yet, it finds no emotional connection, nor does it appear to even look for it. And when you’re talking about childhood trauma and absentee parents and feelings of dread and loneliness – well, you’ve got to be pretty bad at your job not to even accidentally stumble upon some kind of feeling.

The painting The Goldfinch is about how we preserve meaningful bits of our lives and our culture, but the movie The Goldfinch is about how some things are destined to be forgotten.

 

The Upside

Dell has a record and a chip on his shoulder. He’s looking for work just enough to appease his parole officer but not enough to actually get a job. But then one lands in his lap anyway.

Now, to be fair: Dell (Kevin Hart) hasn’t done anything to earn this job. Yvonne (Nicole Kidman) has lined up plenty of qualified, competent health care aides to interview for the position. But Philip (Bryan Cranston) doesn’t want the good ones. Philip is disgustingly wealthy, newly paraplegic, and harboring a death wish. No one else is prepared to respect his DNR and he’s hoping a fuck up like Dell will mean merciful death – and soon.

The Upside is an American remake of  a French film called The Intouchables. It was wildly popular in France and it’s a well-made film, but both iterations have MV5BODE2NDI3NzUxNV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNTIzMDQxNzM@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1497,1000_AL_the same problem. They’re about a wealthy white dude introducing a poor black man to “culture.” The condescension implicit in the premise is so problematic it’s hard to look beyond it. Kevin Hart and Bryan Cranston have passable chemistry but you’re going to love or hate this film, mostly depending on whether you can embrace the formula. Because The Upside doesn’t even pretend to deviate from The Intouchables’ formula. Not for one stinking minute.

Old white rich guy and slightly younger ex-con have a lot to learn from each other. Philip is grieving the loss of his wife (which never amounts to anything) and his legs, while Dell is dealing with repercussions over the loss of his freedom, and his family. Not that he ‘lost’ his family so much as neglected them and now thinks he can win them back by throwing money at the situation.

The direction is nothing special. The movie relies on the whole ‘based (VERY LOOSELY) on a true story’ shtick and it’s very familiar and uninspired. The performances are fine; the best thing you can say about them is that they won’t be remembered in anyone’s career retrospective. But none of this really matters because at the end of the day (or the start of the film), the movie just feels racist and wrong.

TIFF18: Boy Erased

Jared is a good guy. He goes to church with is parents, where his father is the pastor. He plays on the high school basketball team. He’s kind to his girlfriend. But when he gets to collage, the world isn’t quite so good to him in return. He makes fast friends with a fellow runner, but that leads to a surprise sexual tryst one night that the other guy can’t live with. So, he tries to destroy Jared’s life, forcibly outing him to his deeply religious parents.

Jared (Lucas Hedges) respects his parents (Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe) so he goes to gay conversion camp as instructed, in the hopes that they can turn him straight.  Conversion therapy is nuts. I mean, it just is, on principle. What kind of whack jobs really believed this would work? And what kind of whack jobs wanted it to? It would almost MV5BMjQ4MDM0MjMxOF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMTkzNzY1NTM@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1555,1000_AL_make a handy queer dating service, as it is probably the biggest concentration of homosexual folk any of these kids has seen before, if it wasn’t so nasty and abusive. That’s what it really boils down to. The head instructor, Victor Sykes (Joel Edgerton), blames your “problem” on some member of your family who made you gay. He wants you to pick someone to focus your anger on. He wants you to learn to “act” “straight” (did you know that the triangle is the straightest shape?). He focuses on behaviour – if you stop playing football, you are no longer a football player. Problem solved.

I mean, this whole thesis feels strangely out of date. Why is Hollywood still trying to convince people that gay is okay? I think societally we’ve moved past this point, except all these scripts that have been languishing for years are only now getting produced, and they’re already obsolete. You have to check out indie cinema to see some truly of-the-moment lgbt themes. But okay, gay conversion therapy is a horror. Of course it is. But the thing that’s great about Boy Erased is that Jared is such a strong character. Everyone and everything in his life is trying to make him feel wrong and ashamed and dirty, but he doesn’t. When he confirms to his parents that he thinks about men, he knows it goes against everything they believe, but it doesn’t seem like he’s internalized that self-hatred. It can’t be easy, in that house particularly, to know that his very being is not only repugnant but blasphemous to the people he loves most. And yet when he consents to the therapy, it’s for them, not for him. We never get the sense that he believes he needs to change. And that’s kind of astonishing to see.

Eventually Jared need to come to terms with disappointing the people he loves. And maybe he’ll need to cut out the people who are adding toxicity to his life. Those are hard choices, but they’re the right ones. This movie is really more about his parents needing to learn that they’re the idiots, and they’re the ones in need of education and re-conditioning. But while Nicole Kidman, in all her church lady big-hair, bejeweled glory, sort of comes around, there’s not a lot of remorse on the part of Russell Crowe’s character. And that’s where the movie falls short. Jared is surprisingly at ease with himself but the movie doesn’t give him nearly enough credit. Director Joel Edgerton, perhaps unsurprisingly, spends more time on his own character, than he does on the ones with real influence in this story.

Boy Erased is a good, competent little movie that will fail to make a big impression.

TIFF18: Destroyer

Mere minutes into this film, I was ready to hand Nicole Kidman her Oscar. We meet detective Erin Bell, LAPD, as a broken down woman limping up to a murder scene looking no better than the corpse. The reek of booze preceding her, her colleagues roll their eyes behind her back and do all they can to get rid of her so she doesn’t impede the investigation. There is no love or respect for her on the force, except maybe from her partner, who she is expertly avoiding.

But flash back to when she was a young FBI agent. She and partner Chris (Sebastian Stan) were placed undercover with a gang that dealt in a little bit of everything: drugs, theft, whatever. Like any good undercover agent, they melted seamlessly into the gang, became their friends, even got together as a couple, which more or less bled into their real lives. But when the gang plans a bank heist, the operation goes south.

MV5BMjAzMDU5ODU3MV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMjMwMzcxNjM@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,999_AL_Cut back to present day: Bell is washed up, an alcoholic, estranged from her family. She looks like hell, smells like she’s pickled, practically lives in her car since that’s where she most often passes out. But when that murder scene turns out to be related to her old gang, she realizes its leader, Silas (Toby Kebbell) has resurfaced and she’ll have to dive back down the rabbit hole in order to make things right.

You might be picking up on Nicole Kidman’s incredible performance. It’s not just that she’s nearly unrecognizable – her gait, her posture, the shadow behind her eyes – her performance is so holistic and encompassing it’s a shock to our system. Contrasted with the “before” years, before she knows how life can hurt you, she looks wholesome and free, like the world exists to bloom with possibility.

Director Karyn Kusama has a very dark outlook on the world, and she’s not afraid to bring her protagonist down the narrowest, most bleak passageways to get where she’s going. Erin Bell is tortured and unlikeable, which is unusual for a female character, and it’s certainly not what we’ve come to expect from Kidman. I’m glad that Kusama doesn’t try to soften her, but I also thought that Kidman’s haggard look was a little extreme, Bell’s complete collapse perhaps not quite explained by the trauma in her past. Everything hints toward something far more sinister, and when the pieces of the puzzle come together, it’s bad, but it’s not as bad as you expect. In fact, it’s a little on the expected side. Destroyer has a great female protagonist that pushes the envelope, and Kidman’s performance is nothing short of incredible, but this movie won’t be remembered for anything more than that.

How To Talk To Girls At Parties

Boy is this title misleading! It sounds like it belongs to the self-help genre, but if you’ve been standing awkwardly around the dip, wondering how to break the ice, calculating to the minute when it’s no longer rude to leave, well, I hate to tell you this, but this movie isn’t going to change your life.

It’s based on a short story by Neil Gaiman, which means I went in curious as hell. And director John Cameron Mitchell is an interesting guy, with some visually stunning work tucked into his artist fanny pack. But here’s the deal: Enn (Alex Sharp) is a young punk. That’s not my inner grumpy old man coming out, he’s a teenager in 1977 who thinks punk rock music is going to save his soul. He and his punk friends go out one night in the London suburb of Croydon and stumble upon a party that seems too good to be true: a sex den of beautiful exchange students.

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DJ James Murphy developed a new kind of EDM for this movie, one he’s described as “extraterrestrial dance music,” that still feels like a cousin to the Sex Pistols.  So you can imagine that John Cameron Mitchell has created a really cool vibe for this movie, and when it works, it’s a lot of fun. But it may have been a little ambitious to stage a punk rebellion musical. Okay, a lot ambitious. But that’s one of the move lovable things about it. Sure it’s unhinged, it’s messy, it’s campy, it’s weird. It’s a punk rock Romeo & Juliet. It mixes metaphors. It mixes genres. It’s not always successful but it takes big risks and paints with wild abandon. Plus, there’s Nicole Kidman looking like David Bowie in Labyrinth, which nearly stopped my heart. Maybe this movie is not for you. But I hope it finds its audience of weirdos. Weirdos gonna weird.