Tag Archives: One To Watch

TIFF18: American Woman

At first glance, Deb (Sienna Miller) is all-too-easily dismissed. She’s a former teen mom turned grandmother at 31. She’s a mistress whose hot date turns out to be a trip to a sleazy motel room, where she is handed a plastic bag containing either dollar store lingerie or a slutty devil halloween costume (same difference, really). The next morning, we see that she is waking up alone in her own bed, suggesting the motel room was paid by the hour.

At that point, we’re about five minutes into American Woman, and you’re ready to write Deb off.

But don’t. Don’t you dare.

AmericanWoman_02Because Deb is worth more than she even knows, which she stars to discover after her daughter fails to come home one night after a date with her basement-dwelling baby daddy.  A loved one’s disappearance must be life-shattering. Miller lets us see the dissapearance’s drastic effects on Deb in such a restrained and measured way that Deb’s resulting character growth is organic, believable, and most impressively, almost invisible at first. Deb’s evolution is captivating, and the Deb we know by the end of the movie is at once the same core character and a woman whose outlook and attitude have evolved beyond anything I could have ever expected.

I cannot overstate the magnificence of Sienna Miller’s performance in American Woman. She is magnetic and conveys a mix of strength and vulnerability that is as authentic a performance as I can remember. And while Miller is the standout, he excellence is almost always matched by the rest of the cast, including Christina Hendricks as Deb’s sister, Amy Madigan as Deb’s mom, and Mad TV’s Will Sasso as Deb’s brother-in-law. Deb is rightly the focal point but it’s great that the strong supporting characters each get the chance to shine.

The gauntlet thrown down by the cast’s fantastic performances is picked up by those behind the camera, and they are up to the task. Brad Ingelsby’s script is smarter than it has any right to be, discarding obvious answers on a regular basis, and showing off by giving effortless depth to secondary and tertiary characters (including turning an obvious villain into an earnest guy deserving of our sympathy). Director Jake Scott uses care and moderation rather than flash and sensationalism, particularly in a crucial scene at the film’s climax, proving beyond any doubt that less is more. Scott consistently makes brilliant choices even in small details, such as by using visuals and settings to indicate the passage of time, rather than title cards.

The result of all of this individual brilliance, naturally, is a standout character study that can hold its own against anything that TIFF18 has to offer (which I can say with certainty since I saw If Beale Street Could Talk and Roma on either side of it). American Woman is as smart, rewarding and satisfying a cinematic experience as anyone could ask for, making for a film that you absolutely do not want to miss.

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Rear Window

The first time I saw Rear Window, I was in high school, still living with my mother out in the suburb of a small town. We had neighbours, but each ensconced in their own acre-sized lot, with no windows that could be seen from my windows except in the vaguest way possible. I didn’t even know anyone who lived in an apartment.

It’s a sweltering New York summer, and Jeff (James Stewart), a photographer, is cooped up in his West Village apartment, his broken leg in a cast. He spends his days gazing out his window at the apartment building opposite him, and thanks to the heat wave, tumblr_ogehf50Yis1rfd7lko1_500everyone’s got their windows open and their business on display. It’s a lesson in voyeurism that probably also comments upon the movie going experience, our own gaze from within a darkened theatre into the secret lives of others. “We’ve become a nation of peeping toms,” complains Stella (Thelma Ritter), Jeff’s nurse, and she’s not wrong. But immobilized in a wheel chair, Jeff is spellbound by the people across the courtyard, and becomes convinced that one of them has committed murder. Soon the skeptical nurse gets pulled into his nonsense as well, as does Stewart’s love interest Lisa, played by Grace Kelly.

Now, of course Jeff is watching his neighbours with murder on his mind, but it’s impossible not to note that there’s another big M being observed: marriage. Remember that Lisa, kind, wonderful, thoughtful, beautiful Lisa, is doing most of the pursuing in her relationship with Jeff, and he’s doing most of the resisting. Marriage, to him, is a bigger trap than the cast he’s saddled with on his leg. The other apartment building has all sorts of marriage on display from newlyweds pulling down their blind for “alone time” to the old married couple always bickering. And perhaps the couple so fed up with each other they may resort to murder.

Incredibly, the entire set was built on a Paramount sound studio over two months, the set measuring 98 feet wide, 185 long and 40 high. The courtyard is about 20 to 30 feet below stage level, so they actually tore up the stage and built the courtyard in the basement, which used to be a storage area. That way when you look down from Jeff’s apartment, tumblr_ok3uz6DlfI1qa3aq2o1_500the perspective is just right. The set’s buildings consisted of 31 apartments wired for electricity and plumbed for water; a dozen of them were completely furnished. Georgine Darcy, who played Miss Toros (the dancer), lived in the apartment all day long, resting there between takes as if it were really her home. There were 1000 large lights and 1000 smaller ones to simulate sunlight; once it got so hot on set that it set off the sprinklers. Hitchcock directed the whole thing from Jeff’s apartment. The actors in the building across the courtyard wore flesh-coloured ear pieces and took direction that way.

Rear Window is one of my favourite Hitchcock films. When Sean and I rewatched it recently we delighted in one-upping each other with our running commentary about James Stewart relationships with women in this movie. They’re worse than just dated. But the truth is, the film has held up well and is just as entertaining now as ever. It’s definitely One To Watch.

 

 

Sean’s Ten Favourite Movies of 2015

Since today is New Year’s Eve, it seemed like a good time to count down my favourite movies released in 2015. I still have lots to watch (Hateful Eight, you’re next!) so I don’t pretend this list is comprehensive, but it’s a damn good start.

10. What We Do in the Shadows

What We Do in the Shadows is such a crazy, what-we-do-in-the-shadowsbizarre comedy that I had to love it. It’s irresistible. There are so many great characters on display, a bizarre mix of humans, vampires, and werewolves, and their interactions with one another killed me. With laughter.  From start to finish, What We Do in the Shadows gave me scene after scene of amusement, from a bat fight to a werewolf showdown to one of the most awkward town dances imaginable.

9. The Martian

INTRO-2_20thCenturyFox_TheMartianThe Martian occupied a strange position for me. I absolutely loved the book, to the point I was worried the movie would fall short and disappoint, but I still felt optimistic that Ridley Scott and crew would pull it off. Well, there’s no doubt now – they pulled it off and then some. The Martian is a fantastic piece of film that captured the book even better than I hoped. It’s got a little of everything (comedy, drama, scifi, thrilller, even a hint of romance) in perfect balance, in a film that is so beautiful to watch it makes you want to visit Mars even after all that happens to poor Mark Watney.

8. Spy

Paul Feig and Melissa McCarthy always make good stuff together, and Spy is their best to date. As great as McCarthy is, Spy is not just about her, and the great performances from the entire ensemble are what makes Spy one of my favourite movies of 2spy-DF-04541_R2_rgb.0015.  McCarthy owns the screen when needed but steps back in order to give everyone their moment to shine, from Rose Byrne to Jude Law to Miranda Hart, and Jason Statham is especially memorable as the boneheaded spy who wants to use every action movie cliche in the book, to hilarious results.

7. Creed

Creed brought back Rocky, one of my most beloved franchises, in the best possible way.   It’s a creed-finalposter-frontpagefresh start with a new boxer, Michael B. Jordan, carrying the torch.  But at the same time, it forges strong connections to the existing franchise, with Jordan playing Apollo Creed’s son and Rocky being brought in to train the son of his best friend and biggest rival.  The atmosphere was perfect, the nods to the past were wonderful, and the story made us cheer again for a new underdog, feeling familiar while also opening up a whole new world of possibilities.

6. Kingsman: The Secret Service 

In a year where Marvel released two more superhero movies (and Fox gave us one that we are desperately trying to forget), Kingsman: The Secret Service is mykingsman-movie-review-the-secret-service favourite comic book adaptation of 2015.   Who knew that Colin Firth could be such an action hero?  His character’s last stand at a Kentucky church is one of the best action scenes in recent memory, and the symphony of exploding heads at the end is absolutely masterful.  Style and excess abound in Kingsman and I’m looking forward to more of the same in 2017, when the sequel is released!

5. Bridge of Spies

Is it just me or did Bridge of Spies fly WAY under the radar?  I heard almost nothing about this movie from anyone, which is shocking for a movie directed by Steven Spielberg, starring Tom Hanks, or written by the Coen Brothers (and Bridge of Spies is all three)!  And this is not just any movie.  It’s incredible.  I was captivated from start to finish by this cold war story that eschews stereotypes and in doing so gives us a much richer experience than I ever could have expected.  Nothing is black and white, everything is a shade of grey, especially the Russian spy being bartered (Mark Rylance), who is one of the most upstanding individuals you will ever see on film (especially when in any other movie he’d be the bad guy)!

4. Mad Max: Fury Road

I’m glad to see Mad Max: Fury Road getting so much love, both upon release and as we all reflect on the best of 2015.  Mad Max is my favourite action movie of the year by far.  Mad Max gave us something so original, frenetic, and crazy that it almost blew my mind.  Visually, Mad Max was spectacular but the story and characters were what lifted this movie above the pack. FURY ROAD Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron give particularly memorable leading performances, while Nicholas Hoult and Hugh Keays-Byrne both give us bizarre yet believable supporting turns that increase the crazy factor immensely.  Mad Max never stops, not even for a second, and it’s a hell of a ride!

3. The Revenant

Speaking of non-stop treks through desolate wastelands, The Revenant is next on my list of favourites.  But I would not call The Revenant an action movie – it’s more of a slow burn revenge story as bear attack survivor Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) chases his son’s killer (Tom Hardy, who’s awesome again, this time in a supporting role).  And while the midwest winter is harsh, Hugh Glass’ surroundings are absolutely beautiful.  For my money, director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki gave us the most visually stunning movie of 2015, and that’s high praise given the next two on the list are also brilliant in that regard.

2. Ex Machina

Ex-Machina-Cast-Wallpapers (1)As is probably evident, 2015 gave us a wide variety of excellent movies, and my favourites were all unique in some way.  And “unique” is the best way I can think to describe Ex Machina.  It’s a seemingly serene, beautifully shot meditation on what it is to be alive for much of the movie, and yet the whole time your brain is waiting for things to turn ugly.  Because it’s inevitable that they will, and yes, they do.   Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac and Alicia Vikander all deliver incredible performances, playing so well off each other that it’s easy to suspend any disbelief we may otherwise have had.  Ex Machina is spectacular from beginning to end, and most importantly, it puts very difficult questions to us, through the protagonists, that we will ultimately have to answer.

1. Anomalisa

Unique in every way, Anomalisa is head and shoulders above the rest of the movies I saw this year, and without question my favourite of 2015.  Everything in Anomalisa serves a purpose, everything has meaning, everything anomalisais a potential clue to our struggling protagonist of the hidden problems that he’s facing.  Charlie Kaufman’s writing is sharper than ever and Duke Johnson’s animation is stunning and absolutely essential to the story.  Anomalisa is pure cinematic brilliance, and I hope all of you are able to experience it for yourselves (as it’s open in select theatres, expanding to a wider release in January).  Of all the movies I saw this year, Anomalisa is the one that still sticks with me months later, and I don’t expect to shake it anytime soon.

Happy New Year, and please let me know in the comments what your favourites were in 2015!