Tag Archives: Sebastian Stan

TIFF18: Destroyer

Mere minutes into this film, I was ready to hand Nicole Kidman her Oscar. We meet detective Erin Bell, LAPD, as a broken down woman limping up to a murder scene looking no better than the corpse. The reek of booze preceding her, her colleagues roll their eyes behind her back and do all they can to get rid of her so she doesn’t impede the investigation. There is no love or respect for her on the force, except maybe from her partner, who she is expertly avoiding.

But flash back to when she was a young FBI agent. She and partner Chris (Sebastian Stan) were placed undercover with a gang that dealt in a little bit of everything: drugs, theft, whatever. Like any good undercover agent, they melted seamlessly into the gang, became their friends, even got together as a couple, which more or less bled into their real lives. But when the gang plans a bank heist, the operation goes south.

MV5BMjAzMDU5ODU3MV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMjMwMzcxNjM@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,999_AL_Cut back to present day: Bell is washed up, an alcoholic, estranged from her family. She looks like hell, smells like she’s pickled, practically lives in her car since that’s where she most often passes out. But when that murder scene turns out to be related to her old gang, she realizes its leader, Silas (Toby Kebbell) has resurfaced and she’ll have to dive back down the rabbit hole in order to make things right.

You might be picking up on Nicole Kidman’s incredible performance. It’s not just that she’s nearly unrecognizable – her gait, her posture, the shadow behind her eyes – her performance is so holistic and encompassing it’s a shock to our system. Contrasted with the “before” years, before she knows how life can hurt you, she looks wholesome and free, like the world exists to bloom with possibility.

Director Karyn Kusama has a very dark outlook on the world, and she’s not afraid to bring her protagonist down the narrowest, most bleak passageways to get where she’s going. Erin Bell is tortured and unlikeable, which is unusual for a female character, and it’s certainly not what we’ve come to expect from Kidman. I’m glad that Kusama doesn’t try to soften her, but I also thought that Kidman’s haggard look was a little extreme, Bell’s complete collapse perhaps not quite explained by the trauma in her past. Everything hints toward something far more sinister, and when the pieces of the puzzle come together, it’s bad, but it’s not as bad as you expect. In fact, it’s a little on the expected side. Destroyer has a great female protagonist that pushes the envelope, and Kidman’s performance is nothing short of incredible, but this movie won’t be remembered for anything more than that.

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I, Tonya

Margot Robbie is convinced this film will change your mind about Tonya Harding. Is she a villain or a victim? Abused or abuser? The truth is, your opinion doesn’t really matter and truth doesn’t really exist. What does exist: a wholly funny film that never fails to entertain.

{In the unlikely event you’re in need of a refresher: Tonya Harding was an American figure skater in the 1990s, and competed twice in the Olympics. She was known for two things: for being the first American female to land a triple axel in competition, and for bashing in her Nancy Kerrigan’s knee.}

Margot Robbie is well-cast as Tonya Harding. She’s still just a little too pretty to play elm120117intelmovies-007-1512400299white trash, even with the poofy 90s bangs, but she comes down low and it’s pretty glorious. Sebastian Stan plays Harding’s good for nothing husband, Jeff Gillooly, and he disappears into the role of dumb fuck. Jeff’s dumb ass best friend Shawn (Paul Walter Hauser) pretends to be an international spy even though he’s a grownup who lives with his parents. Not exactly criminal masterminds, but this is the trio that brought us the most delicious scandal of 1994 (until OJ Simpson that is – if you thought Lillehammer was competitive, try being a celebrity fuck up). But for my money, I’d have to say that the real cast stand-out was Ms. Allison Janney, who plays Tonya’s mother LaVonam who, by sheer comparison, makes bathtub scum look appealing. She’s the dirtiest of dirts with not a kind word or intention in the world. If being a crummy mother was an Olympic sport, she wouldn’t have to resort to breaking any kneecaps.

The first thing that may surprise you about this film is that it’s funny. Actually funny, though pretty dark – the kind of laughs you feel slightly guilty about succumbing to, but you’ll need to just embrace the absurdity. It is farcical, in the way only a true story can be when it’s populated with idiots.

The second thing that surprised me anyway, was that it actually does dredge up sympathy for our poor Tonya. Her guilt (or innocence) is not really the point. This is Tonya’s story, hers alone from beginning to end. No one’s trying to excuse what happened, but putting “the incident” within context is actually very interesting.

I, Tonya is funny, dramatic, pumped full of energy, and even the sports angle is well-done. Certainly Margot Robbie can be commended for all the hard work she put in getting skate-ready, but she gets a lot of help from choreographers, stunt people, and CGI – effects that are pulled off almost seemlessly. But it’s the camera work that makes the figure skating extra exciting – you really get a sense of the speed and athleticism, two hallmarks of Harding’s style in particular. No matter your experience of “the incident” at the time, I, Tonya turns tragedy into triumph.

Logan Lucky

Jay-Z announced his retirement from the rap game in 2003 with his Black Album. He was back three years later. Barbara Streisand retired from public performance in 2000 but has since toured the world not once but twice. Clint Eastwood declared his intention to retire from acting after 2008’s Gran Torino “You always want to quit while you are ahead” — then appeared in the forgettable 2012 movie Trouble With the Curve. Alec Baldwin wrote “Goodbye, public life” in New York Magazine but made three movies the following year. Shia LaBeouf infamous marked his 2014 retirement with his “I’m not famous anymore” campaign, then signed up for a movie role 3 weeks later. Cher embarked on a 3-year farewell tour, then signed up for Las Vegas residency as soon as it ended. Michael Jordan retired from basketball, played a little baseball, then went back to basketball. Point being: fools keep retiring, then unretiring. Director Steven Soderbergh belongs on the list, after telling everyone in 2013 that he’d lost his passion for film making, and that was it for him. Logan Lucky is the movie that brought him out of “retirement” – was it worth it?

loganluckybros.0Having directed Ocean’s Eleven, Twelve AND Thirteen (and producing the upcoming Eight), Soderbergh is no stranger to heist movies, but considers this one to be their “anti-glam” cousin. Logan Lucky’s characters are gritty, the setting low-rent, the heist a lot less slick – but not uninteresting.

The Logan family consists of brothers Jimmy (Channing Tatum) and Clyde (Adam Driver), and little sister Mellie (Riley Keough). They’re known locally for the Logan family curse; Clyde believes the bad luck sets in just as things start to pick up for them. He recently lost an arm just as his deployment was ending in Iraq. Jimmy, meanwhile, has just lost his job at the mines where he uncovered a bunch of tubes that blast cash money from a NASCAR speedway to an underground bank vault. You can practically see the light bulb go BING! above his head. Soon he’s plotting an elaborate sting that will reverse the family’s fortunes. The one little hitch in is plan is that the heist requires the expertise of Joe Bang, bomb maker (Daniel Craig). And it just so happens that Joe Bang’s in prison. Which means to pull of the heist, they first have to break Joe out of (and then back into) prison.

The caper’s afoot! Logan Lucky has a fun ensemble cast that keep things spicy. The film works because Soderbergh reaches for his familiar bag of tricks: a zippy pace, an almost zany plot. These characters are perhaps not the cleverest, they’re reaching above their pay grade. Half the fun is watching things go wonky. Instead of plot twists, Logan Lucky is peppered with…shall we call them mishaps? Small calamities that keep you groaning, and guessing. It’s almost farcical, and to that end, it’s well-cast. The movie doesn’t take itself too seriously, and Daniel Craig is its shining, absurd beacon, stealing all the scenes he’s in and making you anticipate his next one when we’re following someone else.

Unfortunately, the movie really loses steam during its last act. Introducing Hilary Swank as the detective pursuing the case feels both rushed and drawn-out at the same time, somehow. Plus she’s kind of awful. But you know what? The film’s final 10 seconds save the whole damn thing, the cinematic equivalent of a smirk and a wink, and I fell for it.

Welcome back, Mr. Soderbergh.

 

Captain America: Civil War

captain-america-civil-war-teamSpider-Man. Ant-Man. Falcon. Black Panther. These are the top four characters, in order, in Captain America: Civil War. You might think it’s a bad sign that neither Captain America nor Iron Man is on that list, but you’d be wrong!  Although you would be right in thinking I wish this had been a Spider-Man movie with a Captain America/Iron Man cameo, rather than the other way around.

The downside to all of this is we’ve seen it all before. Not only in the sense that it’s roughly the six hundredth comic book movie that came out this year, but also because DC’s eulogy to the millions of fictional civilians killed every year by superheroes came out just six weeks ago.

One big difference between the two movies: Marvel’s is far better. Though like Batman v. Superman, Civil War is too long.  With that said, I’m willing to forgive Marvel since that extra run time was used to shoehorn in Spider-Man. Who, as mentioned at the start, was AWESOME.

Another big difference: Marvel’s movie is way funnier. Civil War would have won by default anyway since there were no laughs at all in BvS, but Civil War is legitimately funny in between the dead family member melodrama.

But as with BvS, don’t expect anything new, don’t expect a good villain, and don’t expect the story to make any goddamned sense. Really, the only differences between the two movies are that (a) we’re glad to see/meet Marvel’s supporting heroes while DC’s just felt like filler; and (b) most of Marvel’s heroes are eager to make us laugh even while fighting, which is a welcome change from DC’s rainy night fights between surly mumbling demigods. Spider-Man is the perfect example of Marvel’s success in both categories, and that’s enough to make this movie worth watching.

Mostly, that’s because Spidey is the best superhero ever and I’m pumped he’s back in the MCU, where he belongs. Though I am suffering from chronic end-credit-scene-fatigue, as a Spider-Man fan I’m glad I stuck around ’til the very end. Hint, hint.

Captain America: Civil War gets a score of eight webslinging vigilantes out of ten.

TIFF 2015: The Martian

Since I read for leisure less than I’d like, it is rare for me to be hoping that Hollywood does justice to a book I absolutely loved.  Andy Weir’s The Martian is that book. Jay handed it to me a while back and the way she did, I knew it was something special.  The Martian is both the most accessible and most science-heavy science fiction novel I have ever read.  If you haven’t read it, do yourself a favour at some point and check it out.  You won’t regret it.

When I heard that Ridley Scott’s adaptation of The Martian was premiering at TIFF 2015, it went to the absolute top of my list.  And it quickly became clear I wasn’t the only one who felt that way.  Despite having a good window for our premium selections, the red carpet premiere was gone before we even had a chance at it.  But fortunately, Matt used his window to grab Jay and me a pair of tickets for the next (and only other) TIFF screening of The Martian.  We got to see it yesterday and it did not disappoint!

The movie is everything it could possibly be.  My only question as we were leaving the screening was whether there was a way they could have kept more in the movie, because some of the problems that arose in the book did not make it into the movie’s two-hour-plus run time.  But that’s inevitable and it’s not something I can criticize because the movie was expertly paced and there was nowhere to expand without losing momentum.  It’s a reason to re-read the book but not a fault of the movie.

The best part of the whole experience was seeing the spirit of the book preserved and celebrated.  As Jay pointed out afterward, while we lost a little Mark Watney time, we gained some time with the other characters, and it was a pleasure to get to know them better.  It might even be a better fit with the theme shared by the book and the movie, namely that when we all work together, we can accomplish remarkable things.  All we need is a little motivation.  There’s no villain here.  There are only challenging problems to be solved by the people who are determined to save one unlucky botanist, most notably the botanist himself.  It’s a joy to watch it all play out, especially against the backdrop of a Mars that is both desolate and vibrant.  The visuals are incredible from start to finish.  See The Martian in 3D if you can – it’s simply spectacular.

The Martian is perfect.  I can’t wait to see it again.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Captain-America-The-Winter-Soldier-HD-Wallpaper1Maybe my expectations were too high.  Which is a bit weird to say because Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a comic book movie, so basically I should have known what I was going to get.  And as a comic book movie, it does its job.  It gives us lots of really fast and strong heroes who jump out of planes and off buildings, endless bad guys with unlimited bullets who shoot at those heroes for half the movie, and a head bad guy with a mask and metal arm who may not even be the mastermind behind all this mayhem.  What it does not give us, and why I was ultimately let down, is any real change to the formula that we have seen from Marvel in its ten (ten!) movies and counting.  It’s all the same and it’s getting a little tired.

The problem is, I’m a comic book guy and an action movie guy.  I should have enjoyed this movie a lot more than I did.  I’m still excited to see Avengers 2 and Guardians of the Galaxy 2.  But now I’m a lot less excited.  I wonder, am I just going to get a rehash of what I’ve seen before like I did in Captain America 2, a story that really begins at the same place it started without advancing the greater plot I thought was underlying these movies in the Marvel Universe?  Before watching this movie I had felt that maybe I should go back and watch the Captain America movies as well as the two Thor movies, but now I feel confident I don’t need to and certainly don’t have any desire to since this movie was so forgettable and so self-contained.

shield punch

Is this just a middling installment in the Marvel movie juggernaut?  Or is it a sign that we’ve used up all the good ideas for now and it’s time to wait for the inevitable reboots of all these characters, since their origins are the only stories from which Hollywood can consistently make decent movies?  I guess we’ll have a better idea in just a few months because Avengers: Age of Ultron opens May 1 and Ant-Man follows shortly after.  My gut says making a movie about Ant-Man is overkill at this point, and then I look and see that there are 16 more Marvel-related movies (including Fox and Sony ones) scheduled to come out between now and 2019.  That’s way too many.  One a year might be too many.  The worst part is, I know there are better movies to be made that have been passed over in favour of these big-budget, low-risk, no-art movies.  I would like to have seen those and 18 more Marvel movies, plus whatever DC is doing, is a poor trade and a loss for all of us.

Big picture aside, I’m still not satisfied with what I was given here.  This movie is a tolerable distraction but leaves you with nothing memorable.  It gets five indestructible shields out of ten.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

I liked but didn’t love Guardians of the Galaxy. Having complained in the review that I posted yesterday that I found it sometimes hard to follow, I starteed to worry that I was becoming a bit of a wet blanket. In hopes of repairing my image of being no fun at all, I am prepared to go all in in my support of Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

Captain America

I didn’t even like the first Captain American all that much. In fairness, I suspect I might have nodded off at one point. As far as I can remember, a scrawny Chris Evans gets an injection of something to become supersoldier Chris Evans so he can go overseas and fight with the Allies in World War II. In the sequel, Captain America isn’t just super strong but has been cryogenically frozen so he can fight for SHIELD in Marvel’s version of the present.

It’s this fish out of water story that makes Winter Soldier such an improvement. And it’s not just played for laughs. Sure, there’s the usual confusion over the internet and modern music. But what does the iconic war hero Captain America think of how America fights its wars now? I won’t go so far as to call Winter Soldier The Thinking Man’s Superhero Movie or anything like that but like, Iron Man, it takes just enough from real life to make the world that Cap is trying to save more relatable than usual. In fact, this is probably the best Iron Manless Avengers movie so far.

The first half or so of The Winter Soldier almost feels like a thriller, with the action getting bigger and bigger until it becomes unmistakably Marvel. The action scenes are a step above most of the other movies in the Avengers series, although I did wish that the directors wouldn’t cut away so fast sometimes so we could see what’s going on. Chris Evans, who I thought was so boring in both the first Captain America and in The Avengers, has a lot more to work with this timepulls it Winter Soldieroff. Or maybe I have just started thinking of Evans differently after having seen and loved last year’s Snowpiercer. Anthony Mackie is a great addition as somebody named Falcon. And Samuel L. Jackson, in his sixth appearance as Nick Fury, finally has something to do. Early scenes where he clashes with Captain America over modern warfare are a big part of what makes it feel like something important is happening and it was refreshing to finally start to get an idea of who Fury is.

If you don’t think you’ll like Captain America: The Winter Soldier, I didn’t think I would either. Check it out. You might be pleasantly surprised.