Tag Archives: Sam Neill

TIFF19: Blackbird

Lily (Susan Sarandon) and Paul (Sam Neill) have called their loved ones over for a very important occasion – Lily’s death.

Oldest daughter Jennifer (Kate Winslet) arrives first, early, with salt and pepper shakers, a gift she immediately questions, and regrets, but feels compelled to give anyway, and a cake she made from scratch, because that’s what she does. Husband Michael (Rainn Wilson) and son Jonathan (Anson Boon) trail in behind her, at a slight remove from her chipper wake. Younger daughter Anna (Mia Wasikowska) arrives late, of course, empty-handed and with meagre excuses for having missed the last several family gatherings. She’s accompanied by unexpected/uninvited Chris (Bex Taylor-Klaus), her on-again/off-again girlfriend. Also on hand: Lily’s best friend and indeed lifelong family friend Liz (Lindsay Duncan). And that’s it. These are all the people Lily wants to say goodbye to before she takes her own life before an unnamed degenerative disease can do it for her, in a likely prolonged, painful, and undignified way.

Everyone knows of Lily’s intentions and everyone tries to put on a brave face despite their own personal feelings – for a while. Lily wants to revisit some old haunts, drink some good wine, host one last Christmas dinner (despite its not being Christmas), and give out some precious heirlooms while she’s still alive to see the recipient’s face. Lily is exceptionally happy to have this last time together, but she’s the only one who can truly enjoy it. Everyone else is just sort of grimly bearing it while having private breakdowns, until one wine-fueled dinner leads to all kinds of family secrets breaking open.

This movie isn’t going to win major awards or draw major box office. It’s a remake of the 2014 Danish film ‘Silent Heart’ which I have not seen. But despite it not being particularly ground-breaking or excellent film making, it is perhaps the single movie out of the 40 or so I saw at TIFF that I’ve thought about the most.

This family believes itself to be, prides itself on being, close-knit. And it might have gone on that way forever, untested, if not for this incredibly stressful time that they’re sharing. Surrounded by her family, Lily proclaims how proud she is of her daughters – a lovely sentiment that would normally be quite harmless, but in this pressure-cooker of a weekend, daughter Anna can’t help but wonder out loud if that can really be true if her mother’s really never known her. Not her true, inner self. And if you’re the introspective type of moviegoer, I suppose you can’t help but reflect on your own family situation. These people, who are supposed to know you and love you best, are often the source of the most conflict and pain. Your own mother, who made you and cooked you in her belly, who birthed you and bathed you and cared for you – does she know you? Do you hide any part of yourself from her? Are you comfortable knowing everything about her? Are any of us truly knowable by any other?

I confess, this movie sent me into a tailspin. And to be honest, that’s exactly what I love about going to the cinema. It’s the chance, albeit a pretty slim one, that I will leave the theatre thinking. Feeling. Questioning. Considering. I did not need a movie to remind me that my mother doesn’t truly know me, but it did leave me wondering what, if anything, I would reveal of myself if I knew her time was limited.

Lily is someone to each person at her table: wife, mother, best friend, grandma, in-law, trusted confidante, role model, judge. Everyone has something different to lose, and it’s figuring out exactly what that is that makes this process so difficult. Life is an equation. Lily feels her good days are up and craves the control to prevent too many bad ones. Anna feels she isn’t ready to lose her mother. Is anyone, ever? I think both sides of this equation are reasonable, but only one can prevail. These are the seminal relationships of our lives and we are born knowing that they will end. Are we ever really ready?

Susan Sarandon is self-assured and brave. Sam Neill is a stoic, steady silver fox. Kate Winslet is anxious and authoritative. Mia Wasikowska is wounded and fragile. They are not a perfect family, which is to say: they are a family. And they’re about to break.

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The Vow

Oh The Vow. I see that you want to crawl up inside my vagina, manipulate my lady hormones, and convince me to buy movie tickets and packets of kleenex and ample ice cream, and quite possibly those handbags that the camera keeps inexplicably dwelling on. You’re a cheap ploy in romance clothing, but I’ve got your number.

The Vow thinks having two attractive leads is enough for you to believe in their love. He looks good, she looks good, what more could they want? The movie sets the bar low for itself but still  manages to tumble far, far beneath it.

Item #1: When she is sick, he leaves her a box of ‘get well’ goodies, containing, and I can hardly believe I’m about to write this: lingerie. Which is a subtle way of saying: I think you’re gross right now, but I look forward to fucking you again in the future when you’re useful to me again. He does not hand her this box, merely leaves her to discover it while he waits a plate-glass away. Not only is that unromantic, it’s completely misguided and for me, would be an automatic break-up. You know what’s romantic? Risking her germs to actually be present when she’s sick. Letting her know that you love her whether you currently find her fuckable or not. Loving her whether she’s currently well enough to blow you or not. Loving her enough to be in the same room as her in sickness and in health. THAT’S romantic. Or, you know, basic human decency.

Item #2: When he farts in the car, she rolls up the window. Okay, I’m gagging right MV5BMjI4NTQ4MDIxMV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMTAzNDUzNw@@._V1_SX1500_CR0,0,1500,999_AL_now because yes, that’s played as romantic in this twisted little shit of a movie, when in fact that’s the most disgusting thing I’ve ever seen on film, and I’ve seen Matthew McConaughey receive some poultry-related fellatio, so keep that in mind. Hot boxing farts is romantic? No. Holding it in until you’re in a bathroom is romantic. Sticking to turkey at Thanksgiving to avoid ham farts on the car ride home later (sorry for outing you, Sean) is romantic. Or, you know, basic human decency.

The Vow, because if you don’t already know it, it’s probably not apparent, is about a couple, Paige (Rachel McAdams) and Leo (Channing Tatum), who fall in love because every thing they do is just so damned romantic. Except for the car crash that nearly kills them, and leaves her without a memory. Or, at least, without a memory of him, their entire relationship just wiped out. The doctors seem to agree that this is a thing that can happen even though I suspect she’s just tired of his constant need to come up with new ways to plausibly be shirtless. But anyway. He’s still deeply in love with his wife, but his wife thinks he’s no better than a stranger. So she elects to go home with her parents instead since she doesn’t remember they’re estranged, and they’re pretty eager to pretend they’re not (Jessica Lange and Sam Neill are the sole touch of class to this movie and are completely, egregiously wasted – the movie would be vastly improved by writing out Tatum and McAdams completely and focusing on the talented, veteran actors instead. Alas.).

So: does he try to win her back, or does he do the kind thing and let her go? His friends are of two minds: a) she doesn’t remember all the stupid shit he’s done, like the car farts b) can he really get her to fall in love with him again? Paige has reverted to some juvenile or naive former version of herself and doesn’t seem willing to give him the time of day (in fact, has her eye on an old boyfriend, the smug Bradley Cooper type who is apparently played by Scott Speedman when production runs out of money). And stupid Leo’s ONE movie consists of an expensive box of chocolates that I don’t know how they afford because she’s an artist and he owns a recording studio which means they’re basically unemployed and broke AF, and a guessing game that even Forrest Gump would have found immature.

What happens in the movie doesn’t matter because it’s boring and predictable and full of shit. Even the real life people upon whom the story is based don’t like it because the film erases their Christianity, and Rachel McAdams says fuck. And I don’t like it because it preys upon the lonely, romantic saps who just want to believe in true love, and then feed them a barrel full of horse manure and label it truffles. Baloney.

However, I have enjoyed taunting Sean about whether or not he could win me over in the case of amnesia. I mean, what if I woke up with standards? Hopefully we’ll never know. And hopefully it doesn’t take head trauma for you to realize that flatulence should never be part of courtship. Hopefully we’re all living better lives than the doomed couple in this movie – this is the kind of “romantic” movie that causes single people to gloat and everyone else hang their heads real low.

 

Peter Rabbit

I’m not a Peter Rabbit purist and I don’t much care that the movie deviates conclusively from Beatrix Potter’s beloved children’s series. I do care, however, that this movie was 90% montage, more the sort of Youtube video my 6 year old nephew might put together than an actual movie made by an actual studio. The soundtrack must be in the neighbourhood of an astounding 37 discs, although who would buy them is a bit of a mystery. Most songs featured are older than the audience will be, lots even born in the previous century. And I realize that Galaxy of the Guardians banks on exactly this formula, and we can sit here and debate just how much the 80s deserve to be revered, but I’m nearly 110% certain that no one will be on the “pro” side of the same debate in honour of Len’s Steal My Sunshine, which cannot be forgotten soon enough and certainly didn’t need a Peter Rabbit remix.

Peter Rabbit and his friends are delightfully rendered in CGI, very sweet and cute looking, with just enough clothing to anthropomorphize but never enough to be very confident something rude’s not going on. But don’t let their looks deceive you: these bunnies are homicidal. They’re ruthless and entitled and they’re pretty shitty MV5BZjg0Mjk0NTUtYWU3NS00ZmVmLTk3ZmUtODEyN2FhMTA4ZmZmXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTc5OTMwOTQ@._V1_neighbours, to be honest. I mean, they have a whole forest they could forage for food, but instead they repeatedly pillage a garden lovingly tended by an old man mourning the death of his beloved wife. And they don’t just want to steal his cucumbers, they want him dead (although where would the garden be without a gardener, huh, bunnies, did you even stop to think of that?). No, the bunnies, who are obviously thoughtless millennials in this incarnation, only think of themselves, and their stealing is somehow justified.

And not to shock you, but they actually do succeed in killing old man McGregor – only to find that his nephew, who inherits the place, is much worse. So they set about murdering him too. Sure, they mistakenly bring a tomato to a dynamite fight once, but the rest of the time they aim to kill. Sean was pretty shocked when they knowingly choke the guy with food he’s known to be deathly allergic to. Too far, he thought, and yet this was only one small battle in a very long war savagely fought. These are no innocent rabbits. Of course, sweet Bea next door is appalled that anyone should deny her fluffy-tailed friends all the produce they can eat and waste, but not so appalled, I noticed, that she would bother to plant a garden herself. But of course, the rabbits aren’t stealing out of hunger, they’re doing it out of spite, and though it’s played incessantly for laughs, I just don’t know why we need these kinds of stakes in a kids’ movie.

To me, the children’s books were warm and gentle and sweet and the movie seems to strive to be the complete opposite: rude and obnoxious and totally devoid of charm.

The Commuter

Michael is 60 years old, and after a lifetime of working hard and doing everything right, he and his wife are living hand to mouth with tuition to be paid and second mortgages due when he gets laid off from his job selling insurance in the city.

On the sad commute home, he meets Joanna, who asks him to do just “one little thing”, an experiment she calls it, because she’s a psychopath. But she’s offering cash money as a reward, so of course he’s tempted. And by tempted I mean he makes a beeline to the washroom to retrieve the money, which of course sets into motion a whole thing.

Liam Neeson gets into another sticky situation

How on earth has it come to this?

Joanna (Vera Farmiga) is asking of Michael (Liam Neeson) quite a lot, in fact: his commuter train is carrying a witness to a crime, and if he doesn’t find and kill the witness, they’re going to kill his whole family, whom he loves, which we know from a montage of monotony\suburban bliss.

I feel like all the right building blocks are assembled here, not least of all a terrific cast, including Neeson and Sam Neill, who make the material better than it is. But the script leaves out essential elements like suspense and intrigue, instead hitting overly familiar beats, which makes the whole thing drab and predictable. It feels plucked out of the recycle bin, which is insulting. Then again, the trailer did everything in its power to warn me away by collecting the 90 seconds worth of interesting, original thought and stringing them all together in a way that then did not play out satisfyingly in the movie. Like, why would a married couple ever remind each other of being married by flashing their rings at each other, EXCEPT in the case that those rings would momentarily become a plot point? I remember making fun of that so bad when I saw the trailer – and I began fancily revealing my ring to Sean so that I could mock the movie even as I cannily avoided seeing it in cinemas by conveniently forgetting that it existed. Ooooh, look, I’m showing you this right you bought me a long time ago that I have worn every single day since to the point where it’s not even considered jewelry anymore, it’s just a slightly shinier piece of my body that’s supposed to discourage others from flirting with me but generally doesn’t.

But anyway, back to the review, the gist of which is: not so much. It’s a mystery that you don’t really care about, a story that isn’t exactly fresh, and a premise that feels pretty goddamn ludicrous. It’s a “what you would do” that could have begun and ended with a simple ‘Don’t talk to strangers.’

Tribeca: Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Taika Waititi.

1449603737890If you don’t know that name yet, stay right here while I get a nice wooden baseball bat to beat you over the head with. Don’t move, I’ll be right back.

Seriously, I talk obsessively about Waititi and his movies because I just adore them. He’s remained mostly under the radar with offbeat, cult hits like Boy and Eagle Vs Shark, which have made him famous in his native New Zealand but all but undiscovered over here in North America. WHICH IS A FRICKIN CRIME.ai_28310_aimedium

Last year his vampire mockumentary What We Do In The Shadows was a modest breakthrough that earned him some well-deserved and super duper overdue attention. It will also help that he’s had a hand in writing Disney’s upcoming animated film Moana and will direct Thor: Ragnarok, which will be his first budget exceeding $12.

But back to Hunt for the Wilderpeople, perhaps the best thing I saw at the Tribeca Film Festival and maybe the best thing Waititi’s done to date. He adapted it for the screen himself and as the film opens up, you immediately get the sense that it is a labour of love. The beautiful, lush New Zealaai_28434_aimediumnd bush is on proud display in soaring shots that will give you serious travel envy. Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison) is a boy who’s had a run of bad luck with foster homes, and his child welfare worker is quick to give a laundry list of his transgressions. This doesn’t deter his determined newest foster mum Aunt Bella (Rima Te Wiata) but Uncle Hec (Sam Neill) is a lot more reticent and gruff. Their primitive way of life is a bit of a shock to gangster-wannabe Ricky, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg because soon events will have him and Uncle Hec running from the law and hiding out in the bush as an intensive manhunt for them is underway.

The movie becomes an odd-couple adventure with Waititi’s niche sensibility and loads of mass appeal. Seriously – who on this green earth could fail to be charmed by this movie? 506332228For such an endearingly quirky comedy, it has no right being even half as beautifully shot as it is. There’s a gloss to the film thanks to some real cinematography that’s been missing from his previous work. A lot of care has gone into this film and the casting is just one easy example of how diligently the thing is put together. Sam Neill is an interesting choice and brings the right mix of gravelly loner bluntness and a secret longing for connection. But it’s Julian Dennison who will leave the largest impression. A kid actor can make or break your movie when he’s in a central role, but Dennison is a professional, easy and natural in front 1453595660563of the camera. There’s pain behind his farcical behaviour, and in allowing us to see both, there’s real depth and emotional investment in the characters. Waititi, Rachel House, and Rhys Darby provide excellent supporting roles that’ll leave you cramped from laughter. Positively bruised from chuckling. It’s a new personal best for Waititi and a new sentimental favourite for me, but one that deserves its place among the very best movies of the year, period.