Tag Archives: Rebecca Hall

Teen Spirit

Teen Spirit, a singing competition not unlike The Voice or American Idol, comes to the Isle of Wight for the first time. Violet (Elle Fanning) is the first in line to audition, though she’s shy, and her strict Polish mother forbids it. Popstardom seems a far cry from the austere life she leads on a small farm with her single mother, who believes singing for god in the church choir should be more than enough. But for Violet, it’s not.

She auditions, and she recruits a strange old man named Vlad (Zlatko Buric) to pose as her guardian as she is not yet 18. In fact, Vlad has a mysterious past as an opera singer, so he might have some valuable insight into this whole singing thing, if only his fondness for the bottle doesn’t get too much in the way.

MV5BMWVjZTYxZTgtMWUwMS00YTAyLWFjYjktOGE0YjE3MDJhYzE2XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTc5OTMwOTQ@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1499,1000_AL_Teen Spirit is a singing competition, but for Violet, it’ll test much more than her voice. It’ll test the bonds of friendship and family. It will test her integrity and her ambition. Her mettle and her tenacity. And honestly, what teenager could stand up to such a battery of glittering tests? It’s a box full of sin and temptation, just as her mother feared, but Violet can’t wait to rip it wide open.

Max Minghella writes and directs Teen Spirit, though to be honest, he could have both written and directed more. It’s short on story, and what story is there is very familiar. The underdog’s story has been told a million ways and it doesn’t feel like Minghella is particularly interested in adding to it. But he does have a knack for the music breaks. Invariably set to a monster pop song, those scenes are slick and spiffy, candy for the eyes and ears. They contrast well with Violet’s otherwise shabby life back home. Elle Fanning sells it. She is the candy, and she’s very sweet; Minghella is smart to have stocked up on her. The movie is worth watching just to see her break out of that shell and if it inspires your singing-and-dancing-in-the-shower routine, you’ll know who to thank.

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Holmes & Watson

How old am I? I laughed at Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly all the way through Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby in 2006. And then I did it again 2 years later for Step Brothers. They were such a charming duo in their way. But here we are in 2019 and I can’t find one spare giggle for their reunion in Holmes & Watson. How old have I gotten that I don’t find these two funny anymore? Or perhaps the better question is: why are they still making the same movie when they’re both now in their 50s?

In fact, upon closer inspection, Holmes & Watson is NOT the same movie. The first two are birthed at the hands of Ferrell and Adam McKay, with just a magical sprinkling from Reilly. Holmes & Watson is written and directed by Etan Cohen, who is also responsible for Idiocracy, a movie which I find vile and deeply unfunny, so perhaps it’s no wonder at all that this one isn’t for me either.

The world is saturated with Sherlock Holmes stories and we didn’t need another, but I believe we would have made room for it if the movie warranted it. Benedict Cumberbatch has already staked an icon take on the role, and the writers on the show go MV5BM2Q0Y2UyNDEtODE1NC00ZTUyLTgzY2EtNjliM2VjNDk3NTZjXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyOTMyMjYwNTA@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,888_AL_to great lengths to honour his brilliant mind and the world’s most esteemed detective. Will Ferrell’s Sherlock is also supposed to be brilliant, but Cohen can’t find a way to express that while still being funny. The result is a rim shot – you know, when the basketball can’t decide whether to score or not, so it just sort of hobbles around in midair, keeping everyone in suspense? Only the movie’s tone is the basketball, and it circles the rim for so long that you’d rather just walk away in disgust than find it whether it eventually lands.

As far as I can tell, most of the humour is derived from Holmes and Watson supposedly accidentally inventing things far before their time, like a selfie with the Queen (it’s Queen Victoria in the movie, even though at the time of Titanic’s sail, which is when the film is set, King George would have reined), and a telegraphed dick pic

Holmes & Watson is a blemish to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s memory, and a bruise for modern cinema, which it really didn’t need. It’s not just an unfunny comedy, it’s also a shockingly bad movie. When Sony realized it had a real stinker on its hands, it tried to just sell it off quietly to Netflix, and Netflix said: no thanks. So if you’re still wondering How bad can it be?, remember that you’ll have to pay a $5 rental fee to find out, and after reading this review, if you pay it, it’s not so much a rental feel as an idiot tax, and maybe you deserve to pay it after all.

Please Give

Kate and Alex own a successful, upscale second-hand furniture store; they buy estate items from grieving families and turn a tidy profit. Kate (Catherine Keener) and Alex (Oliver Platt) also own the apartment next door to theirs, and are impatiently waiting for its former owner and current occupant to die before they can knock down some walls and start the renovations. The old lady is cantankerous enough that they don’t feel particularly guilty about this, though their repeated run-ins with her granddaughters (Rebecca Hall, Amanda Peet) are increasingly awkward.

That sounds kind of brutal, but what writer-director Nicole Holofcener has created in Kate is actually a very interesting, nuanced character who’s experiencing some of that white woman, liberal guilt that comes with middle age and introspection. Kate is living MV5BNTM0OTU5ODY5MF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNzgwNzUzMw@@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,997_AL_in complex economic times that challenge her notions of propriety. She can’t pass a homeless person without contributing to their cup, which makes her privileged teenage daughter somehow feel deprived. There’s something really fascinating about Kate; she’s complex, and not afraid to have conflicting emotions. She has mastered the world in which she lives but while she isn’t comfortable holding the reins, she’s not a hypocrite, and she knows deep down she wouldn’t want it any other way. Meanwhile, the women next door, in less than ideal circumstances, provide a nice contrast to Kate’s guilty affluence.

Catherine Keener continues to be under-rated but she’s really terrific in Please Give – it’s inspired casting. Kate’s empathy and ambition give her a complexity that’s rarely seen and difficult to pull off, and I can imagine it being a lot less successful in almost any other hands. The movie feels a little slight at times, a little thin in plot, but everyone has a point of view and the film maker trusts us to sit with the themes and experience our own version of existential reckoning.

Professor Marston And The Wonder Women

William Marston was a professor of psychology; his wife Elizabeth was an equally and likely superior mind, but being female, was relegated to assistantship. Professor Marston  (Luke Evans) was developing lots of new ideas about behaviour, and had a new theory based on  dominance, inducement, submission, and compliance. He and Elizabeth (Rebecca Hall) were looking among their students for a young apprentice, and found what they were looking for and more in Olive (Bella Heathcote).

The Marstons both fell in love with her, and a polyamourous relationship was born. They had children together and continued to work and invent together – the modern lie detector test is thanks to them. But what may be most remarkable about this MV5BNzMwYmUzZjItNDVjMy00YWE5LWE0MWUtNWZlYThlNmQ1NTQ1XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNDg2MjUxNjM@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1499,1000_AL_relationship, taboo and reviled in the 1930s and 40s, was that it inspired the creation of the Wonder Woman comic. Marston’s original stories (written under a pseudonym) incorporated the feminist ideals embodied by his wives. Wonder Woman was a strong woman who needed no man. His early comics also involved a fair amount of bondage and submission, which he pursued in his own bedroom and thought more young men should be turned onto. You can imagine the sort of censorship and uproar he faced.

With Wonder Woman so fresh in our cultural memories at the moment, it’s interesting to witness her birth, to see the surprising and sometimes literal inspirations that Marston drew upon. The performances are strong and the three have a nice chemistry that, despite accusations of “sexual perversity,” feels very honest and sometimes nearly wholesome. Rebecca Hall in particular shows the conflict and the consent and the curiosity that pushes her character toward an unconventional life. I must say, however, that I’m a little disappointed in the title. Though the film makes clear enough that Marston is bested by his lovers, they still seem to take second seat in this story, and that feels like a let down to our hero, and her real counterparts.

The Dinner

As a book, I very much enjoyed The Dinner. It’s fascinating and controversial but hard to talk about without giving everything away. Same goes for the movie I suppose, but the most important takeaway is that the movie is very, very bad. Read the book. It’s a gut punch page-turner. The movie fucks it all up.

First, the book is Dutch. The movie of course makes the characters and setting American (even though half its stars are Brits). It’s about two couples who meet at a very fancy schmancy restaurant to discuss their problematic children. Paul (Steve Coogan) is a history teacher with some mental health problems; his wife Claire (Laura Linney) is a cancer survivor. It’s hard to say who is more protective of whom. Paul’s older brother hero_Dinner-2017Stan (Richard Gere) is a politician poised to become an even more powerful politician, as evidenced by the aides who can’t quite allow him a moment of peace or privacy during the dinner (not that he objects); his wife, aka, his second wife, Katelyn (Rebecca Hall) raises his kids so that he can govern unencumbered and expects to be rewarded. Their sons have recently been involved in a crime that is making its way around Youtube. They are thus far unidentified but now the parents must decide how to handle things should they found out – or should they remain undiscovered.

The dinner is filled with tension, not just because of what their boys have done, but because of the strained family dynamic between Paul and Stan. And because Paul is uncomfortable with all the pomp and circumstance surrounding the haute cuisine. The dinner is constantly interrupted by flashbacks, many of which actually detract from the story. The book is really about morality and the thin veneers we hide behind in “civilized” society, and the tension ratchets up as more and more secrets explode like bombs dropped among the gold-rimmed china. The movie doesn’t manage to retain much of what makes the novel great. The characters are repugnant because they’re stripped bare of any pretense. The worst has happened, their primal, parental instincts have been activated – anything can happen.

But the movie just drops the ball. It’s a complete waste of time that doesn’t even know what to do with itself. It has maybe the worst, most abrupt ending that I’ve ever encountered, and it made me want to interrupt their dinner by swinging an angry cat around by its tail. Fuck y’all.

The Town

Ben Affleck branded Charlestown the “bank robbery capital” of America in his movie about the neighbourhood, The Town. Neither cops nor statistics actually bear that statement out, but he certainly painted a picture of a rough neighbourhood where its inhabitants (“townies”) scowl at outsiders and steal everything that’s not nailed down. Sean and I have been to Boston a few times so I can’t quite recall which time we ventured out to “the town” for some dinner but I do recall deliberating whether we should. Sure the internet was calling this Moroccan restaurant one of Boston’s best, but did we feel safe?

hero_EB20100915REVIEWS100919991ARClearly things have changed since Ben Affleck last spent the night in Charlestown. When we visited, it was gentrified as hell, Beamers parked up and down the street. It’s also been a while since we last watched the film, so without the benefit of bellydancers or couscous, we gave it a re-watch.

Ben Affleck came on board as director only after someone else bowed out. His original cut of the movie was 4 hours long, and if you’re interested, it’s available to watch on the Blu-Ray. The studio convinced him to cut it down to 2 hours, 8 minutes for our sake, still a lengthy movie, but one that just flies by. Affleck’s character assembles a team of ruffians who brazenly rob banks and armoured trucks. He’s wanting to get out of this life, but neither his friends nor his enemies are willing to let him go. So that’s a complication. Another little wrinkle: the woman he’s currently in a relationship with is a former hostage of his, only she doesn’t know it. So that’s awkward.

You can tell Affleck is an actor-director; the action scenes are electric but the editing slows way down during character-driven scenes. He lingers over them. And he knows a great performance when he sees one. In The Town, the scene stealer was Jeremy Renner, who Casey Affleck recommended when Ben couldn’t get Mark Walhberg. Affleck has since said that Renner’s performance was so strong that he could literally save a scene by cutting to Renner looking down at a napkin.

Anyway, whether or not The Town is an accurate portrayal of the people and criminals who live there, it’s an excellent film, slick and well-paced, and it definitely benefits from great on-location shooting. The Boston on screen no longer exists, if it ever did, but it’s a great cinematic accomplishment for a hometown boy.

Christine

As often happens in Hollywood, two films came out around the same time about the same subject, in this case Christine Chubbuck,  a real-life reporter who took her life during a live broadcast in the 1970s. I reviewed Kate Plays Christine previously, and didn’t much care for its treatment of the subject. I needed a breather so have only now braced myself for the second film, Christine.

And this one is better, if I’m still not entirely sure we’ve gotten to the bottom of who she was and why she did what she did. If you do research on her as I have, much has been hqdefault.jpgmade of the fact that she (played by Rebecca Hall) was 30 and horrified of it, still a boyfriendless, childless virgin. I’m sort of offended on behalf of women everywhere that this is seen by anyone as the reason for her suicide. She was a troubled woman who’d struggled with depression and had left a job and life behind elsewhere in order to ‘rebuild.’ But this new place wasn’t going much better. A year in, she pined for the news anchor (Michael C. Hall) yet pushed him away when he got near. She yearned to do important investigative reporting but the station manager insisted on a “if it bleeds, it leads” policy. She couldn’t get promoted and wasn’t being taken seriously. She lived with her mother, sometimes happily, sometimes not.

Her on-air personality was quite cheerful but she was much more socially awkward in real life. Hall portrays her as troubled and disappointed, but not depressed beyond repair. So when the suicide comes, as you know it inevitably will, it still caught me off guard. Certainly we’d need to see her mental state unravel far more before this point arrives? I was shocked by it, and am not sure if the director, Antonio Campos, is trying to tell us that perhaps she wasn’t truly suicidal, or if the story was just lacking. I can’t rule christine-rebecca-hall.jpgout the former since I’ve always found the circumstance of her death a little fishy. Before she put the gun to her head, she read out a brief statement, basically accusing the station of pushing her to do this drastic, bloody thing. She’d also prepared a statement for a colleague to read out afterward, though none did. In that, she described her actions as a “suicide attempt” and reported that she’d been taken to hospital alive but in serious condition. Had she not planned or wanted her suicide to be “successful”? We’ll never know.

The film has a yellowed look to it, no doubt added afterward to achieve a vintage feel authentic to a 1970s era. It’s also well-acted by both Halls (no relation), with Rebecca Hall adopting a lower and more formulated voice, and Michael C. Hall slipping into a shiny-haired broadcaster’s charm. Although I don’t feel like the film offers us a complete (or at least a true) look at her life, the convincing and often gripping performances make Christine worthwhile.