Tag Archives: Patricia Clarkson

Almost Love

IMDB describes this film as ‘An ensemble comedy about romance in the smartphone era’ which, if you read my review of Jexi, you’ll know made me want to find the nearest toilet and throw my phone right in, but since that thing knows my contacts AND my passwords, I just punched myself in the face instead. But I still watched the movie, through two swollen black eyes.

And I’m glad I did. Had you not read this description, you never would have paid much attention to the phones. They are, as in most people’s experience, simply an accessory to our daily lives. This is how we live now; they are as omnipresent as Ubers and pumpkin spice lattes and Donald Trump’s nonsensical tweets.

A group of grown-up friends in NYC is figuring shit out in life and love. It’s like Friends, if Rachel fell in love with a minor, Monica fucked a homeless dude, and Chandler made counterfeit paintings. Roughly speaking.

Haley (Zoe Chao) is trying to disentangle herself from a dependency situation of her own making; Cammy (Michelle Buteau) is realizing that the dating pool is so dire her deal breakers are surprisingly few; Marklin (Augustus Prew) is too busy carefully curating his Instagram posts to notice his actual life is a whole lot messier; Adam (Scott Evans) has so much suppressed rage it’s manifesting in physical blows; and Elizabeth (Kate Walsh) has for so long been the mascot for love in her circle of friends she’s having a hard time telling them she’s getting a divorce. When life isn’t perfect, do you lower your standards? Your expectations?

Mike Doyle writes and directs this low-key comedy, which works about as often as it doesn’t. Well, “doesn’t” is unfair. It’s more like: moments of thoughtful introspection, moments of surprisingly zany comedy, and moments that are achingly predictable. All elevated by a talented cast, the stand-out being Buteau, who I’ve seen stealing scenes in several Netflix movies now, and was glad to finally hold on to for more than just a few minutes at a time.

This movie kind of snuck up on me. I was enjoying it in a modest sort of way but then the end was somehow more than the sum of its parts. Love is hard. Life is hard. Everyone just wants to be seen, and when a film can reflect back your neuroses, your insecurities, your pettiest resentments without making you feel small or unfit, when it knows that finding true love, be they friends or be they lovers, means finding someone who sees the good and the bad and loves the whole package, then I think that movie has done its job.


Jonathan has a very ordered, very precise life. He runs, he works, he cooks, he sleeps. The only thing odd about his life are the videos he leaves for his brother. Jonathan (Ansel Elgort) is clearly the buttoned-down brother; the other one a little wild, a little loose. But they’re close. They’re very close because they have to be. The two brothers occupy the same body. Jonathan works it during the day while Jon (also Elgort, duh) takes the nighttime shift. It’s a “thing” apparently, according to Dr. Patricia Clarkson, and let’s face it, I WILL buy anything that lady’s selling.

mv5bnmq4ywe4nmetnzk5mi00zwnllwewm2utnmuzodbjm2qzyte2xkeyxkfqcgdeqxvyndc2nzc5mta@._v1_There’s occasionally a little tension between the brothers because in order to make their arrangement work, they have to live by certain rules. And as you might guess, Jonathan’s a better rule follower than is Jon. When Jon breaks a cardinal rule, ie, gets a girlfriend, the two start to pull apart, and while distance between siblings is usually a normal thing, between these two it’s going to start to get very, very complicated.

There’s a dark filament running its electric current throughout the movie, and I have to say, I liked it. I like movies that are puzzles, and I’m always four steps ahead, or I think I am, trying to shoehorn pieces in to slots that are maybe not the right fit. The brothers are superclose, inhabiting the same body as they do, but at the same time, they’ve never technically met. How’s that for a concept? Now imagine the relationship you have with your own sibling. Do you fight sometimes? Give each other the silent treatment? The thing is, when Jon and Jonathan fight, they virtually disappear from each other’s lives, but at the same time their bodies are subject to whatever the other does during his shift. It’s crazy.

Ansel Elgort is commanding in dual roles, though this movie, as you can tell by the title, belongs to Jonathan. The story is told only through his side of the equation; glimpses of his brother come only through the videos, and the consequences to Jonathan’s waking life. I tend to like these bold, “big idea” movies and this one worked for me. Not in a big way. It doesn’t quite live up to Jonathan’s potential, or even Jon’s. But it cooks with some really interesting ingredients. It has a sci-fi premise but a character study feel. Jonathan can’t quite fill the big shoes of its own promise, but I like that it tried, and I like how it tried, and I like the twisty pretzel shapes my brain’s been doing trying to straighten it all out.

The Maze Runner Trilogy

Like many of you, Sean and I are experiencing ‘weather’. We’re iced in rather than snowed in, which is just as annoying, and harder on hydro lines. When we do have power, we’re watching a trilogy we don’t give a damn about, which I think is a good strategy. As ice storms go, this one’s fairly benign. When I was in high school, we had a massive ice storm that meant weeks without classes, electricity, flushing toilets, or accessible roads. This one’s only distinguishing feature is that it’s arriving mid-April just to annoy the fuck out of us. Hope you’re all staying warm! What’s it like where you are?

The Maze Runner: Every week for the past 3 years, a teenage boy has been dropped in the middle of a very large, very deadly maze. Those who have ventured in have not returned. Those who remain do so by eking out survival in the middle, where it’s safe if not entirely comfortable. They hold on to hope by telling each other the maze must be solvable, but after 3 years, there have been no breakthroughs. Truthfully, it’s very Lord of the Flies. There are also no girls, which means either all the girls solve the maze easily and disappear, or they’re smart enough not to get sent in in the first place. Then one day, Thomas arrives in the maze, and his presence seems to wreak havoc. He engages with the maze in new and startling ways – ways that may lead to their ultimate escape but in the short term stirs up a lot of life-threatening stuff, of which not everyone is a fan. So of course the camp is splitting into two factions when something even worse shows up: a girl. So you know the maze is about to be solved, because finally there’s some female brain power involved. And it is….but it turns out the maze was only the beginning.

This movie is by-the-book YA programming. There’s very little to the characters since they’ve all had their memories wiped, but the actors are pretty decent. You’ll recognize a Thomas-gif-the-maze-runner-thomas-39099571-500-250few faces – Dylan O’Brien (Teen Wolf, American Assassin, Deepwater Horizon) in the lead role, Thomas Brodie-Sangster (the little guy from Love Actually, partially grown up!), and Will Poulter (with a face destined to play villain after villain, poor guy). The movie is dark, and keeps kids in mortal danger. The world is underexplained and the ending is underwhelming. There’s a strong, interesting premise with a pretty standard execution that adds up to me feeling like I’ve somehow seen it all before.

The Scorch Trials: The kids are helicoptered away from the maze and into a safe house run by Janson  (Aiden Gillen). Turns out, the kids were being experimented upon because they have survived the apocalyptic virus that kills nearly everyone else and possibly the cure is in their blood, but it can only be ‘harvested’, not taken. An organization called WCKD (previously run by Patricia Clarkson) was testing them in the maze and you can understand why the kids are feeling wary of them. Unfortunately, it’s hard to know who to trust out here (and these starry-eyed kids keep on trusting everyone despite constant reminders they shouldn’t). While the first Maze Runner had them running an actual maze, in this one they’re just basically imperiling themselves only to escape and eventually to be caught up in even more preposterous circumstances. They’re basically being chased through the desert by Murphy’s Law.

The Scorch Trials are not as interesting. Oh, it’s action-packed, but the sac is so packed with action that it’s sprung a leak where all the good stuff like plot and plausibility have spilled out.

The Death Cure: We know the kids are the key to the cure and that WCKD will do anything to keep them as research subjects – in fact, WCKD has recaptured some of the group, and now, instead of escaping the walls of a maze, they’ll have to penetrate the walls of the city where they’re holding their friends. It’s more dangerous! More action-packed! With higher stakes! I mean, not really. I don’t think any of this was half as interesting as the maze itself, although this movie does pose one interesting question: should we torture a few in order to extract a cure that would save many?

The Death Cure takes some pretty big logic leaps but it means business: zombies, explosions, action by air, land, and sea. Old friends, new friends. Tragic deaths and new beginnings. And maybe even hope for the future. It’s an adequate goodbye, and a more dignified end to the series than most others in the YA genre, but if you weren’t a maze fan before, this one isn’t going to convert you. It’s bloated and ridiculous, but what else did you expect?

The Party

Janet (Kristin Scott Thomas) is hosting a dinner party to celebrate her recent promotion (her husband Bill – Timothy Spall – is quite useless). The guests include a couple, Martha and Jinny (Cherry Jones and Emily Mortimer), who’ve just found out they’re expecting triplets, another couple, April and Gottfried (Patricia Clarkson and Bruno Ganz) having one ‘last supper’ before they break up forever, and half of a couple, Tom (Cillian Murphy) who brought his own cocaine and gun. Are we having fun yet?

MV5BZTcxMmI2MzUtMWUyOC00NzNiLWFmN2YtNGNhNjBhZmQ5YTA1XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjUwNzk3NDc@._V1_Poor Janet. She’s just achieved a major career coup and every single guest at her party will make a thunder-stealing announcement. It’s really not her night. It’s REALLY not her night.

I love Patricia Clarkson, luminous Patricia Clarkson, and this is the script that she deserves – compact but with lots of punch. Serving as best friend to Kristin Scott Thomas, the two make a fine pair for this satire and I probably would have really loved this film had it just been their two glorious faces in black and white, conversing back and forth in their clipped and candid way.

The film is well-directed by Sally Potter. Basically told in real time, the editing is quick and fluid as we bounce between the various characters and their various bombshells. The Party feels and is a very small film but it’s hard to tear your gaze away from the very talented actors. It’s not very penetrating and at times it embraces its farcical nature; I’m not sure this is the kind of film to stick with you for any length of time. But for the performances alone, and Clarkson’s in particular, I’d say there are worse ways to waste 71 minutes.

Learning To Drive

Like many 16 year olds, I was at the DMV the morning of my birthday, aced the test, and had my learner’s permit burning a hole in my pocket by noon, when I unwrapped a tiny box, a gift from my mother. It was a key chain with a little red convertible with real functioning head lights on one hand, and a key dangling off the other. “Don’t get too excited,” said my mother, but I knew. I knew it was a key to the family Ford Aerostar, a hideous forest-green hulking rust monster, but I loved it all the same.

But that key never got put into an ignition. Not for days and weeks and months. I was the oldest and my mother was having none of that. Teach a teenager to drive? No thank you. So the task S730830122222would fall to my crazy abusive father, right in the throes of their dirty, nasty divorce. So after my first lesson with him left me shaking and hurting on the side of the road, I chose not to repeat. I’d saved up babysitting money  (two dollars and 50 gruelling cents an hour, thankyouvermuch) to go to driver’s ed, and so twice a week my grandmother would drive wayyyy out to my country-bumpkin school, pick me up, give me lemonade in a mayonnaise jar and cookies in an old pharmacy bag, and drive me very very slowly into the city for my lessons.

What I learned first and foremost was that driving instructors are sexist. But when my lessons ended, so did my driving. Mom still wasn’t having it and dad was a lost cause. So I was a non-driving spaz, until suddenly the expiry date was upon and if I let it lapse, I’d not only have to start over, I’d have to repay as well, which you might be noticing was not really an option for me at the time. So what I did was: I broke the law. My great friend Anna took me out in her parents’ van and let me practice once or twice. A learner’s permit means you can only drive with a 1329492434321_9055156licensed, adult driver, but what choice did I have? So I went to get my G-2 having only ever driven a couple of times, and almost never in the car I was testing in. I told almost no one, certain I would fail, but of course Anna had blabbed to my whole history class in my absence and it was goddamn good thing that I passed when my teacher put me on the spot.

And then I didn’t drive again for a decade. I moved away to a big city for University. I didn’t have a car, couldn’t have afforded to even park a car. A few years later the third installment of the graduated licensing testing came up and I couldn’t even afford that. So I let it lapse. The truth was, it wasn’t just the money. It was also the fear. I’d taken all the anxiety of driving with my father and blamed cars instead of him. I believed that I “couldn’t” drive, that I was worthless, and I was stuck. I moved to an even bigger city and wouldn’t have had a car no matter what. It was pedestrian-friendly, which I love, and transit-supporting, which I navigated well.

But then I moved back here to Ottawa and got a reality check in the form of a bus driver strike. I was surprised to have my independence taken away so easily, and as the strike went on, week after week, in the frigid Canadian winter, I was also in danger of losing my livelihood. Cabs were impossible to get. The city was being held hostage. I thankfully had a good-hearted boyfriend who threw kinks into his own schedule in order to negotiate mine. But I made a new year’s resolution to learn to drive, and then hyperventilated for months at the mere thought of it. But then I signed up for a couple of lessons and went for my test and: passed. Of course I’m leaving 206out the copious vomiting and panic attacks. Assume lots of both. Imagine the puddles I left in parking lots across the city! To celebrate, I went out two days later and bought myself a little bug. I still had anxiety, and nearly getting killed when someone ran a red light didn’t help. But I’ve had three bugs in a row (Gloria, Emma, Ruby), cute, zippy little cars, and you know what I drive today? A little red convertible. Life is like that.

Of course, the movie Learning To Drive neglects to mention any of my fraught personal experience with driving. But it is about Patricia Clarkson, who needs to learn to drive homepage_LearningtoDrive-2015-1particularly after her husband leaving her means not just curbing her independence but the shrinkage of her world. Luckily Ben Kingsley aggressively offers her driving lessons, whether she’s ready for them or not. His arranged marriage really calls her own feelings about marriage into question. The plot, if you can call it that, is a bit predictable. But it’s also languid and full-bodied. It’s not a dazzler but Clarkson and Kingsley would make almost anything worthwhile. This is a film for adults, and Christ, I guess that means I am one. Goes down well with a bottle of wine.


Sidebar: one of my favourite bits of the movie is when Patricia Clarkson can’t quite see herself in a red car. “What would it say about me?” she asks, and Ben Kingsley whispers in her ear “Don’t fuck with me.” Her smirk says she’s sold. So what does the colour of your car say about you?

Gold: Warm, intelligent, glamorous

Dark green: Well-Balanced, trustworthy, traditional

Light green: Organic, no-fuss, understated

Yellow: Joyful, sense of humor, sunny disposition, risk-taker

Brown: Powerful, unique, no-nonsense

Beige: Natural, down-to-earth

Orange: Artistic, individual, complex, charming

Light-mid blue: Calm, faithful, true, stable
Dark blue: Confident, credible, authoritative, dependable

Gray: Neutral, sober, practical

Red: Sensual, dynamic, outgoing (vibrant red = bold personality, a go-getter & confident; maroon or wine colour = more subtle)

Silver: Futuristic, prestigious, elegant, maybe a little pretentious

Pearl: Glamorous, exciting, sophisticated

White: Pure, pristine, direct; fresh, young & modern

Black: Powerful, classic, elegant

Mother-Daughter Movies

TMPIt’s time for Thursday movie picks! This week we’re covering movies featuring mother-daughter relationships, which means I for one have been through about 6 boxes of tissues while deciding which are my absolute favourites. Thanks once again to spectacular blogger Wandering Through the Shelves for hosting this weekly meeting of the minds.


While I’m relieved not to be watching live-action fairy tales or YA movies anymore, this was harder than I thought. About a month ago, I had no trouble making a list of classic father-son dynamics but to mother-daughter relationships- that call for not one but two great roles for women- are a little harder to find in Hollywood.

Mamma Mia! At first, my strategy was to name as many Meryl Streep and Diane Keaton moviesmm7_L as I could. This only got me a third of the way there when I remembered Mamma Mia!, the only American movie on my list. Judge me all you want but I love this musical. Yes, the cast was clearly chosen for their comic timing and definitely not their singing voices but their energy with the help of lots of Abba music make this a party I wish I was at. When searching for the father she never knew, a 20 year-old soon-to-be bride comes to realize how little she appreciated the mother who brought her up all by herself.

Jay: Consider yourself judged, Matt.

The Piano Teacher The dynamic between mother and daughter can be as messed up as any piano-teacherand who better to explore just how bad it can get than Austrian director Michel Hanake. Never afraid to make his audience squirm, Hanake (Funny Games) cast Annie Giradot as a mom that makes Carrie’s look permissive. Isabelle Huppert plays a forty-something pianist who shares not only an apartment but a bed with her controlling, perfectionist, and manipulative mother. All this withholding and repression leads to some pretty bizarre behaviour when the daughter meets a young man that she can’t help but be attracted to. Watching it can be an uncomfortable experience but it’s never dull and is sure to inspire lively discussions- even debates.

Volver Penelope Cruz got her first Oscar nomination for Pedro Almodovar’s 2006 Spanish volver-cruz-cobocomedy-drama. Carmen Maura plays mother to both Cruz and Lola Duenas, seemingly back from the dead to seek the forgiveness of her estranged daughter. There’s some serious stuff here but Volver is also surprisingly funny. It’s a hard film to categorize but an easy one to love.



terms_of_endearment_3_maclaine_wingerTerms of Endearment – I saw this movie for the first time yesterday and right away I wondered how I had not seen it before. The opening credits contain so many recognizable names and everyone lives up to expectations. It is not an easy movie to watch because it seems so real. It’s not often a happy movie but it’s so genuine and for that reason above all else I think it will stick with me for a while. I highly recommend it to anyone else who hasn’t seen it.

Spanglish I didn’t even realize until now that this was also written and directed by James L. Brooks (just like Terms of Endearment). Score two for him because this movie is also fantastic. Like Terms of Endearment, it is also not very happy but comparing these movies is a disservice to both. Spanglish stands on its own as a story of true love and sacrifice. Just don’t watch these two movies back to back as you may never recover from all the heartbreak.1112065277

Jay: I can’t believe I let you do this one! I love Spanglish because their cultural isolation really pits the two of them against the world. Even when they occasionally hate each other, they’re still each other’s entire universe, and when other options start to present themselves, this mother is prepared to make the hard choices. You know this movie gets me every time, to see how close the mother gets to love and fulfillment but turns her back on it because she knows it’s best for her daughter.

Freaky Friday (1976) The third slot was a tough one because while I watched several other Freaky-Friday-classic-disney-18104673-900-506mother-daughter movies this week, I felt the other tearjerkers didn’t hit the mark. I went another way. I have to make 100% clear that this is the original Freaky Friday, not the remake. I did not see this movie as a kid, mainly because I confused it with the Friday the 13th series and horror movies terrified me. It’s very dated but it’s fun to see a young Jodie Foster try to act like a regular kid and then do a very accurate impression of herself as adult who happens to be pretending to be a regular kid.


I’m having a tough time paring down this list. I watched Autumn Sonata (Ingrid fucking Bergman!) which succeeds in being uncomfortable and intense despite subtitles. And I watched Imitation of Life, which pitted parenting styles against each other with equally depressing results. And I watched Because I Said So because frankly, how could I not? As Matt pointed out,acc3e0404646c57502b480dc052c4fe1 Diane Keaton is just screaming to be on this list, and this film with 3 sisters and a meddling mother is a comforting exercise in voyeurism. And Pixar’s Brave – I love the circularity in that relationship, the growth experienced by both women and the understanding that comes with it. And The Kids Are All Right – there’s so much here in terms of a family coming to terms with shifting roles, and it’s striking how much the two mothers complement each other. And Sherrybaby. And Easy A (love Patricia Clarkson in that!). And Anywhere But Here. And Mother and Child. Nothing like a major health crisis to flush out your Netflix queue!

But fuck it. Steel Magnolias, baby. There, I said it. It’s goopy and sentimental but you know 5a64037be0d86f25_steel_jpeg_previewwhat? The relationship at its core, Sally Field and Julia Roberts, feels absolutely genuine. Julia Roberts plays a young woman with diabetes, and Sally Field the constantly-worried mother. Both are headstrong but you can tell that Mom is secretly proud that her daughter is determined not to let her illness stop her from living on her own terms. Sally Field will give anything, including body parts, to keep her daughter going, but when the worst happens, the grief and anger are palpable and real.  For my money, Sally Field talking to her comatose daughter is just about the most heart-wrenching tribute to motherhood you’re apt to find.

And Mermaids. I can’t help it. The family situation reminds me so much of my own – just a mom mermaidsposterand her girls on their own in the world. It’s not always easy, or friendly. When you fight you fight big, but you love big too. And the dancing in the kitchen: yes! I love Cher’s awkward stabs at motherhood – the funny little food and the ill-timed advice – and Christina Ricci’s weird little pumpkin-headed wiggles.


Now Voyager is the ultimate in family dysfunction. A hateful and over-bearing mother stifles her daughter NowVoyager-Still6(played by the inesteemable Bette Davis) into a nervous breakdown that turns out to be her weird salvation. Of course, upon return, the now glammed up and self-assured daughter is again reduced to a puddle in the face of her unfeeling mother.

Easy A

This movie Easy-A-Emmais smart and fun but the very first thing it asks of us as an audience – to believe that Emma Stone is a forgettable, undateable nonentity – is an outright lie. I’m sick and tired of movies asking us to ignore the very thing they’re relying on to sell us tickets: the smokin hotness of its star.

Why are we constantly asked to think of a gorgeous woman as an ugly duckling? How dumb does Hollywood think we are? That we somehow won’t see through the ponytail and glasses, or even some simple clumsiness, to see makeover-shes-all-thatthat it was FHM’s sexiest woman all along? A Hollywood script may occasionally call for plain jane, but no producer has ever hired one. Solution? Take a super model, put her hair in a bun, and dress her in paint-splattered overalls. Done.

Nonwallflower Emma Stone plays a virginal Olive, a high school student with an altruistic streak – to help certain male students out, she pretends to slut it up with them, dinging her own spotless reputation, in exchange for mere gift cards. For some reason, though she’s lovely and sassy and genuine, only the audience seems to know this. Even easyA2her best friend deserts her as here little scheme begins to snowball. Although modernly narrated in the form of a webcast, this movie constantly references great(er) teenage movies of the past. Though less angsty, there is a great debt to John Hughes here. And I don’t doubt that despite the high school setting, this movie in many ways is marketed towards the 30-somethings who will get those references. Olive, after all, wise beyond her years – precocious in every way but sexually.

Actually, the most interesting people in Olive’s world are the adults. On the rewatch, I’ve realized that my favourite bits of this movie are her parents, played by the absolutely brilliant Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson. It’s almost shocking, amid all the seediness, to see Olive have such happy, healthy parents who clearly cherish and adore her. Her family life looms large, a real tribute to Olive’s generational tendency to have parents tumblr_mgami5KnuX1r60h6bo5_250who are also friends. Especially convincing is the mother-daughter relationship where Clarkson sparkles as the honest, post-hippie parent. Every moment they are on-screen is preposterous and tongue-in-cheekily indulgent. It’s easy to see where Olive gets her cleverness and self-assuredness. If all high schoolers were as grounded as Olive seems, movies like this wouldn’t have an audience to go see it.