Tag Archives: Robert Duvall

TIFF18: Widows

The world didn’t need any further proof of Viola Davis’ talent or range, but director Steve McQueen is serious about his star, and he painted her the perfect sky in which to shine.

Ronnie (Davis) is devastated by the death of her husband in a robbery gone wrong. But she barely gets him buried before the guys he robbed come calling, and she’s the one on the hook for the 2 million dollars that’s missing. So she rounds up all the widows whose husbands died on that job (Elizabeth Debicki, Michelle Rodriguez) and takes over the family business, such as it is.

But this is not your typical heist movie. Like Scorcese’s The Departed, it’s about more than just the criminal element. While Scorcese looked at dirty cops, McQueen takes on crooked politicians, and he ably blurs the line between felon and city councilman. Tom Mulligan (Robert Duvall) is the departing alderman of District 18, but after a recent heart attack, he’s vacating the spot that his family has held for generations, and his son Jack (Colin Farrell) is planning on stepping into his shoes at the next election. But strangely (to him), he’s not running unopposed. Turns out, he’s not the only willing to be corrupted for cash and kickbacks. The two worlds collide rather impressively when it’s Mulligan’s house the widows break into.

There are a thousand little details that make Widows into a truly great movie, but here are just two:

The opening scene. Liam Neeson and his gang of merry men are pulling a heist, but shit goes down. It’s frantic and violent and spectacular. But it’s intercut with almost its polar opposite: scenes of domesticity. Each man in the gang is shown at home, with his wife, widows-2018-viola-davis-liam-neesonhis kids, his little dog Olivia. Sure they’re criminals but they’re also doting dads, bill payers, lawn mowers, trash taker-outers. So you’ve got this brilliant back and forth of the two, somewhat disparate, halves of their lives. The hard and soft, the why and the how of tough jobs with lots of risk. We don’t spend much time with them, but we already know they are much than just their crimes, and when they meet their end, it’s not without sadness, a loss that is earned. And it’s also a highly effective way of introducing both theme and character. Brilliant, nimble work.

The second scene that really struck me was of Jack Mulligan (Farrell) in the back of a car. We already know his dad (Duvall) is an unapologetic racist. He rants gross inaccuracies about immigrants (even as he seems to employ them as servants in his home) and says the n-word while basically looking us in the eye. He’s not shy about it. He’s old school racist. His son is a little more savvy, but perhaps no less racist. Sure he trots out black woman business owners at his rallies, “success stories” he calls them, dismissively taking credit for their achievements. But as soon as he’s back inside the tinted-window safety of his car, he’s laying down some pretty shitty things to his poor assistant. Interestingly, the car, and thus the man inside, remain impenetrable during the scene. McQueen frames it with the car filling just a small portion of the bottom right-hand side of the screen as it drives the alderman-to-be away from the unsavouriness of his district, to the furthest border where his own palatial home is built and gated. Why would McQueen show Duvall so plainly while uttering his slurs but have Farrell hidden away? What makes Jack different? And what does it mean that the only person we make any contact with the entire time is an occasional glimpse of Jack’s black chauffeur, who Just. Keeps. Driving.

This movie is so well-made it gives me the tingles. I know I started this review singing Viola Davis her praises, but I want to end it that way too. Girl deserves her applause. She is so powerful. She can show vulnerability without making it about a lack of strength. She is commanding and flexible and she brings to this role her own kind of super power – called Strong Black Woman.

 

 

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Four Christmases

Being a child of divorce, I can relate to this notion of multiple Christmases, and most people seem to be stressed enough by just the one. Of course, the truth is, if you have divorce in your life or not, you probably already have multiple holiday celebrations: office, friends, in-laws. The holidays are never simple.

So who can blame Brad and Kate for opting out? They’re a fun loving couple in a committed but unmarried relationship who have kept family out of the equation. Instead of choosing between celebrations, they fly south for the holidays, and this year they’ve got their sights set on Fiji. EXCEPT the stupid San Francisco fog has other ideas and their flight is cancelled AND they get caught on live television so the secret’s out and the families start knocking on the door immediately.

Not only are Brad (Vince Vaughn) and Kate (Reese Witherspoon) on the hook for 4 Christmases, they’re also meeting each other’s parents for the very first time. And what a MV5BMTg4Nzg1MzE1OV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMTI1NzMyNw@@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1492,1000_AL_motley crew that turns out to be! Kate has a cougarrific Mom (Mary Steenburgen) who’s currently dating a rockstar pastor (Dwight Yoakam) and a sister (Kristin Chenoweth) who is dead set on dredging up her entire embarrassing past and a father (Jon Voight) who’s trying to turn over a new leaf. Meanwhile, Brad hippie Mom (Sissy Spacek) is dating his childhood friend who’s aggressively trying to stepfather him despite the non-existent age difference, and his Dad (Robert Duvall) is rough around the edges, to put it nicely, while his brothers (Tim McGraw, Jon Favreau), UFC wannabes, take rough-housing to an uncomfortable level. So I guess the question is for Brad and Kate: do they know each other well enough to survive this family tornado? Or does their relationship depend on constant fun and no entanglements?

The truth is, every family is a juggling act. I remember the first time I brought Sean home to meet my crazy family. I had prepared him as well as I could: someone will cry, someone will lock themselves in the bathroom in a fit of drama, someone will overshare, someone else will shock him with a highly inappropriate question or six. And you know what? ALL of those things happened that first Thanksgiving, as I knew they would, because they always do. But we had a grand time because they’re a fun if dramatic bunch and the problem with families is not really what they reveal of themselves but what they reveal of YOU – as in that hidden part that you shield from new dating partners. But your Mom will inevitably drag out an old photo album that she refuses to cull of your bad haircut phase, and your sister will you call you by your highly unflattering childhood nickname, and your carefully curated cool girl persona will crumble faster than Mom can say “Who wants seconds?”

Anyway, that’s the holidays. They don’t always bring out the best in us, but maybe they bring out our true selves, for better or worse. And if you can’t let that guard drop in front of your partner, then maybe you aren’t really as close as you think. Four Christmases isn’t a great movie, not destined to be a holiday classic, but you can do worse, I suppose, and around the holidays, any excuse to cuddle up on the couch is a good one.

Oscars 2015: Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress

In recent years, you can burn out on online Oscar debates before the nominees have even started writing their speeches yet but in 1995 all I had was Siskel and Ebert and Entertainment Tongith. I was 13 years old and hadn’t seen most of the movies but the way they talked about Oscar night, I wouldn’t have missed it for anything. I laughed through Letterman’s monolgue (probably pretending to get some of the jokes), had strong opinions on Pulp Fiction and Shawkshank Redemption without having seen either one, and celebrated when my two favourites (The Lion King and Speed) each took home two statues. Awards season has been like Christmas for me ever since.

Now, I watch all the movies or at least as many as I can. No category is too minor for me and have sat through more shiity movies than I can count just because they were nominated for best Costume Design or Makeup. I don’t always agree with the winners and have found myself yelling at the tv more than once but I’m back every year with a renewed- and delusional- hope that this time justice will be done.

Best Supporting Actor
Robert Duvall- The JudgeWhiplash script

Ethan Hawke- Boyhood

Edward Norton- Birdman

Mark Ruffalo- Foxcatcher

J. K. Simmons- Whiplash

This category has been one of the surest bets of the night for years now. Recent winners include Javier Bardem for No Country for Old Men, Heath Ledger for The Dark Knight, Christoph Waltz for Inglourious Basterds, and Jared Leto for last year’s Dallas Buyers Club. Even before the nominations were announced, no one had a chance against any of these guys and with J. K. Simmons as an undisputed frontrunner, this year is no exception.

He deserves it too. I finally got around to seeing Whiplash a couple of days ago and was on edge almost every time Simmons was on screen. He’s intimidating even when he’s not being overtly mean and scary even when he’s making you laugh. Best of all, he’s unpredictable, which is more than I can say for the Best Supporting Actor race this year.

It’s not that his competition is completely unworthy. I’m not sure anyone in the world is more irritating to me than Ethan Hawke is but even I had to admit that he was likeable and believable as the still maturing father in Boyhood. He’s in most of my favourite scenes in the movie- my personal favourite being his awkward safe sex talk. And of course there’s Edward Norton, one of the better performances in one of the best acted films of the year.

How Mark Ruffalo was even considered for a nomination is a complete mystery to me and I’m still not sure I understand how it happened. Channing Tatum would have made more sense.

Finally, I have nothing bad to say about Robert Duvall. All other things being equal, he’s by far the best actor in this category but there’s only so much that even he could do to elevate the hokey writing and uninspired directing in The Judge.

J. K. Simmons wins. Anyone else would be a huge upset.

Best Supporting Actress

Lately this has been the Academy’s chance to show us how much it celebrates diversity, doing its best to make up for an obvious caucasian bias in the other acting categories. Recent winners include Penelope Cruz for Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Monique for Precious, Octavia Spencer for The Help, and Lupita Nyong’o for 12 Years a Slave.  The list of nominees this year are not nearly as diverse- or as interesting- as it had been in recent years.Patricia Arquette

Patricia Arquette- Boyhood

Laura Dern- Wild

Keira Knightley- The Imitation Game

Emma Stone- Birdman

Meryl Streep- Into the Woods

I think we could have done better.

Dern, for Wild, seemed to come out of nowhere. I’m not sure I heard even a hint of speculation that she’d be nominated. I don’t get it.

Neither Knightley or Stone are able to stand out in their own movies, let alone among the other nominees. Knightley plays an important part in The Imitation Game and we learn a lot about Alan Turing from his relationship with her character but the movie belongs to Benedict Cumberbatch and to give anyone else in it an acting award would be bizarre. As for Stone, I thought she seemed to struggle with the demands of all the dialogue that she had to memorize in Birdman. She mostly rises to the occasion and has some fantastic moments but she’s really not in the same league as Michael Keaton or Edward Norton.

Meryl Streep’s nomination makes sense. She can’t help being amazing in almost everything and has some of the best scenes in Into the Woods. But do we really want to see her up there again acting like she had no idea she was going to win? She’s already been honoured three times for better performances.

This leaves, by process of elimination, Patricia Arquette. I’d have no problem with a win for her and Boyhood was possibly my favourite movie of the year. I still struggle with the idea of calling this the best supporting performance of the year since Richard Linklater went to great lengths to try and make us forget that we were watching a performance. Her work in the film is still impressive and she’s likely to take home the Oscar.

For an asshole’s discussion on the parts available to women in Hollywood, click here.

The Judge

When his mother dies, a successful big city lawyer returns his the small town to which he swore he’d never return. Despite vowing to leave first thing the next morning, his stay gets extended when his father (a respected judge in his community) is charged with murder. Father and son haven’t spoken in years and neither one likes the idea of working together very much but the The Judgejudge is going to need the best lawyer her can find to keep from going to jail.

Both the prodigal son and the courtroom drama are pretty played out so I wasn’t expecting anything great but when the father and son are played by Robert Duvall and Robert Downey Jr, I didn’t see how it could be bad.

Unfortunately, not much in The Judge feels real. The town doesn’t feel like a real place. The family doesn’t feel like a real family. The court case doesn’t play out like a real trial, with the family drama even playing out on the witness stand in a scene that I couldn’t believe I was watching.

More importantly though, nothing really satisfies. We have to wait until the end of the movie to find out what really happened, both between fathThe Judge 2er and son and the night of the murder. And we should have to wait. All the best payoffs come that way. Our patience doesn’t pay off here though, neither with the family drama or the trial. Even Downey, the king of outalking someone, cross examing witnesses isn’t as much of a treat as it really should be.

The good news is that it’s not all bad. Robert Duvall is a nominee for this year’s academy award for Best Supporting Actor partly because he’s gotten pretty old and it’s been awhile since his last nomination but also because he is just pretty awesome. The best scenes in the movie are all his. His shower scene with Downey manages to be heart-wrenching, tender, and funny and I nearly cried in another scene where he meets his granddaughter. And even if Downey’s return home isn’t as compelling as I would like it to be, his return to real movies is more than welcome. He’s pretty much played no one but Iron Man or Sherlock Holmes for the last five years so even a drama as trite as The Judge is a nice change.