Tag Archives: timothy spall

Chicken Run

Mr. & Mrs. Tweedy are modernizing the farm, which is a euphemistic way to say they’re installing a chicken pot pie factory on premises, which might make for savoury dinners, but it spells utter disaster for the farm’s chickens, who are, after all, our beloved protagonists.

Yes the chickens didn’t know how good they had it. Sure there was the stress of not laying enough eggs and having your head cut off as a result, but that felt like only a remote possibility, whereas the chicken pot pie machine has an actual conveyor belt built to render chickens into cutlets in mere seconds. If you thought the chickens had hustle before (and there’s a couple of excellent montages that suggest they do) boy are you about to see the ante upped now that there’s REAL motivation on the line.

Ginger (Julia Sawalha) is a natural leader of chickens and perhaps a little too bright for her lot in life. But good news: she and all the other chickens believe they are saved when a suave flying rooster named Rocky (Mel Gibson) lands in their yard. He’s grounded with a broken wing, but he promises to earn his keep during this tumultuous time by teaching the chickens to fly. Thus the great chicken rebellion of 2000 is staged, and one of the most ridiculous escape attempts every committed to celluloid is born.

Which is not a complaint. Rather, Chicken Run is quite good fun. And though this film is nearly 20 years old, it’s aged quite well (I suppose there are limited advancements in clay). You all know by now how partial I am to stop-motion animation. It’s the details that get to me. Babs is a clucking little hen who likes to sit and knit; the knitting is real, done with toothpicks. Someone did that! The chicken’s bodies were molded with wire and covered with silicone, but their faces, which changed constantly to reflect their speech, had to be done in plasticine, which is much less durable; halfway through the shoot they’d already gone through 3,370 pounds of it!

With joy sprinkled liberally throughout, this movie has something for everyone, and makes for easy family viewing.


Early Man

A tribe of bunny-hunting cavemen has a sudden clash with bronze-age humans a little further up the evolutionary ladder. This strikes me as very fertile ground for interesting and tragic stories despite the language difficulty, but Aardman Animations took it another way. The bronze boobs are all set to enslave the cavemen and steal their land when Dug, a plucky, dreamy caveman, proposes a deal: neanderthals vs homo sapiens in a football match for their lives.

Yeah, I mean obviously it makes no sense. But that’s it, that’s all you get in terms of story. This may be the early bronze age, but plot is in as short supply as dinosaurs in this film, who have just been demolished by a comet that seems to have spared the people, an opening sequence suggests. I love stop motion animation as a rule, and Aardman has had a string of successes, which have fooled me into thinking I might like Early Man. I didMV5BMWQ3MTVjZGItNGFhNC00NzllLWFmMjEtNjk0NjgyMWZhNTRjXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTc5OTMwOTQ@._V1_ not. There is little room for imagination, and too little of the gentle humour I’ve come to expect. I suppose a lot is lost on myself, a North American dwelling in a country where soccer is the #1 sport played by children under the age of 8, and the #0 sport for all other humans and dogs. So you can imagine that a historically inaccurate (I’m guessing) origin story featuring a sport that already bores me out of my gourd is not exactly championing its cause. And I’ve actually got plenty of soccer in my life – played by a couple of 4 year olds. Their version of soccer is agonizingly slow, uncomplicated by rules, embellished with dandelion picking and popsicle breaks. And it’s still boring as shit. Thank goodness the players themselves are endearing as hell, in t-shirts down to their knees and wearing shin pads that just shout optimism, as if any of them are actually going to get near the ball, which spends most of its time looking forlorn.

And yet watching children’s soccer is still more entertaining than watching Early Man. Plus it tends to be mostly pun-free, which is something I only wish I could say about today’s movie, which was replete with the fuckers. Featuring voice talent such as Eddie Redmayne, Timothy Spall, and Tom Hiddleston, you’d think they would have spent at least as much time on character building as the average United player spends crying on the pitch, faking an injury. Early Man is another kind of painful, a kind that made me miss Volvo-driving soccer moms and orange slices. And you can guess how many times I’ve said that in my life.

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.

The Love Punch

When Richard’s company gets bought out by a bigger company, he and his colleagues see their retirement fund disappear overnight. With the prospect of not being able to support his daughter just off to college, Richard (Pierce Brosnan) and his ex-wife, Kate (Emma Thompson) appeal to the young new director who – surprise! – doesn’t give a shit. So they hatch a little plan to steal their money back in the form of the very large diamond lately dangling from his fiancee’s neck.

the_love_punchRichard and Kate, who haven’t spoken much in years, now find themselves travelling to France together to the perfect cover to their crime: the high-society wedding between the director and his blushing bride. Kate gets relegated to some hen party high-jinks while Richard naps, but her intel is good: a foursome from Texas, business partners the director has not yet met in person, are expected to attend. All they need are two more accomplices. So they call up their good suburban neighbours Pen (Celia Imrie) and Jerry (Timothy Spall) who are for some reason pretty game to join in this merry heist.

Then follow the obligatory jokes about retirement-aged folks planning the perfect crime: weak bladders, low endurance, the need for naps, har har har. If you’ve always wanted to see Emma Thompson in Dallas-era hair and a twangy accent, this is your chance. A couple of James Bond references make the movie a little cheeky and the talent between the four leads means an awful lot of charisma. Emma Thompson shines in everything. But this material is beneath her, beneath them all and they can’t save a clunky, predictable scrip that is frankly a little insulting to anyone over the age of 60. And that’s too bad because I really enjoyed director Joel Hopkins’ Last Chance Harvey, also starring Thompson and Dustin Hoffman who enjoy a late-in-life romance. Watch that one instead.

TIFF: Denial

denial_04Movies based on true stories were a recurring theme for us at TIFF 2016. Our festival experience included five B.O.A.T.S. in a row. My favourite of those was Denial. As a lawyer, I may be slightly biased toward legal dramas, but if you have even a passing interest in law and order (or Law & Order) then you’ll enjoy Denial.

Denial tells the tale of a defamation lawsuit brought by David Irving, British holocaust denier, against Deborah Lipstadt, American university professor. The claim is brought in England, and as a result in order to defend herself, Lipstadt is faced with proving that Irving is a liar.denial

Director Mick Jackson attended our screening and participated in a Q&A session afterward. Jackson confirmed that the courtroom scenes were word-for-word reenactments of the trial transcripts.  That was a great choice by the writers as it makes the scenes feel authentic in pace, tone and style. It was refreshing to me that the real-life scenes were allowed to stand by themselves.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the over-the-top moments a la Col. Jessep’s crossexamination in A Few Good Men, but those don’t actually ever happen in real life. Real life is much more subtle.  Denial embraces that subtlety wholeheartedly and in doing so sets itself apart from your typical lawyer movie.denial-timothy-spall

Rachel Weisz puts on her best American accent and convincingly plays targeted Professor Lipstadt as a driven, determined and difficult-to-deal-with client, and Timothy Spall is wonderfully despicable as Holocaust-denier Irving. But my favourite performance by far was Tom Wilkinson as Lipstadt’s barrister, Richard Rampton, Q.C. Wilkinson is just so fun to watch in the courtroom scenes and in the strategy sessions with Weiss and the rest of team Lipstadt, led by Andrew Scott (who, thanks to his role in Sherlock, I was sure would turn out to be the evil mastermind pulling Irving’s strings). He conveys confidence while at the same time hinting at underlying conflict. I can only hope my British accent develops to the point where one day I sound as lawyerly as Wilkinson.

While I practice my accent, you should definitely watch Denial. I give it a score of eight unhandleable truths out of ten.




Alice Through The Looking Glass

Did my grandfather write this script, by any chance? The puns scream yes. If someone pulls a Werther’s Original caramel candy out of their pocket, it’s official.

I can see glimmers of goodness in this beleaguered movie, believe it or not. Johnny Depp looks cool, even if he’s playing the same basic cartoon character he whips out for every 0523hathaway02_hitn-734x393movie he’s made this century. And the queens (Helena Bonham-Carter and Anne Hathaway) are resplendently rendered. Somebody spent a lot of money but didn’t care that the story was just too convoluted for its own good. What was this even about? It’s certainly not from any story book I remember. And if you a) hire Bort and b) put him in tights, I have to believe you never intended for me to take this seriously. Not for one minute.

I saw a play of the same name in Stratford (Ontario, known for its Shakespearean efforts but this one was “off-Shakespeare” if that makes sense) starring a young Sarah Polley. And maybe that’s part of my problem: Alice, to me, will always be a little girl. Mia Whatsername is a wonderful actress but not Alice.

I was wholly uninspired by the movie and to be honest, often confused. I did catch one interesting part, where Alice wakes up chained to a bed in an insane asylum. Now, to be Screen-Shot-2016-04-04-at-11.43.25-AM-1024x544.pngsure, a grown woman claiming to know of an alternate universe behind a mirror where she talks to rabbits and time is enough to get her legitimately diagnosed. Her doctor, however, through out the popular female catch-all “hysteria” and it reminded me of a list I’d recently seen of actual reasons why women just like me and you were committed to asylums not so very long ago. Play along, will you, give yourself a point for every “offense” you’ve committed on this list, and leave your score in the comments (if you dare).

-business trouble

-kicked in the head by a horse

-ill treatment by husband

-imaginary “female trouble”

-immoral life

-jealousy & religion


-marriage of son


-medicine to prevent conception

-mental excitement

-novel reading

-parents were cousins


-loss of lawsuit


-bad company

-bad habits

-bad whiskey (!)



-fighting fire

-time of life

-venereal excesses


-shooting of daughter

-hard study

-snuff eating for 2 years



-seduction & disappointment

-exposure (to other crazy people? or to women?)


-loss of arm

-social disease


-severe labour



Not to alarm anyone, but I’m suffering from at least 7 of these “symptoms” right now. How about you?


Mr. Turner

Earlier this week, Matt and I went to the Bytowne, a historic old cinema with a vintage red velvet curtain, conveniently located in downtown Ottawa, to see Mr. Turner. At 3:30 in the afternoon, we sat among a sea of gray hair, the audience makeup largely retirement-aged, discount-wielding seniors here to see “the show”. What show? The early bird show, that’s what! No matter which specific film is showing, it’s all the same if a) you’re going to talk loudly throughout the whole thing, as old people so often do, and the ones directly behind us certainly did with vigour if not with understanding, or b) you’re going to sleep throughout the whole thing, as the old man sitting beside Matt did, his light snores drowned out by the shouting behind us, and his MR TURNERsleeping body obscuring our access to the aisle when we’d finally won our freedom.

Mr. Turner is a biopic about the famous painter J.M.W. Turner, a man far more complex than I ever would have guessed. I’m finding it hard to review a film that I simultaneously felt was very, very good, but also a yawn, so instead I’m passing the buck and forcing Matt into an interview of sorts.

Jay: Mike Leigh is known to be scrupulous in his research and has recreated the last quarter-century of Turner’s life quite faithfully. What this means is this movie is relatively free of conventional “plot.” How did you deal with this as a viewer, and do you believe it was an asset or a detractor to the film?

Matt: I think Leigh’s attention to detail was both Mr. Turner’s strength and its weakness. It made for a production design that was almost above reproach and that was almost always interesting to look at. mr-turner-timothy-spall-3His commitment to historical accuracy was admirable and to his credit, I never felt talked down to as I often do when I got to the movies. Quite the opposite. I think he might have given me too much credit. The danger is a movie can sometimes get so bogged down in these details that it can alienate the viewer and Mr. Turner alienated me. Mr. Turner didn’t just take its time, it was slow and all the facts seemed to get in the way of telling a story.

Jay: Yeah, I thought some of the asides, like the little rant about slavery, kind of took you out of the movie, and definitely added length but not illumination. Other scenes, like when a young Queen Victoria visits the Academy and he overhears her spurn his work, are so much more vital. We see Turner stung by the Queen’s rejection of his work and then lampooned by music hall comedians for his move toward abstraction. He wants to please the public and yet isn’t prepared to compromise his vision to do so. Do you think director Mike Leigh sees himself in this character?

Matt: I don’t know much about Leigh except that I’ve sat through several of his films. Sometimes it’s a pleasure, sometimes it’s a chore. Even my favourite of his films unfold way too slowly for mainstream North American audiences. He seems to tell the stories he wants to tell without compromising his vision and isn’t afraid to alienate viewers with shorter attention spans. So, in tha way, I can see how he would identify with Mr. Turner and that would explain why everything about this movie feels like it Mr Turner scene from filmwas the one that he has been waiting his entire career to make.

Jay: I think it was in the works for years and years, actually. That being said, I imagine that to pour so much of yourself into a movie, you’d want as many butts in the seats as possible. Movie directors aren’t normally known for making art for art’s sake. He works with a lot of his long-time collaborators, like Dick Pope (or Poop, according to the Oscars), his amazing cinematographer, and this time he also cast his own romantic partner as Turner’s romantic partner, Mrs. Booth. Turner not only neglects his family, but outright denies them to most others who ask. Why do you think that was and why did his attitude toward family seemingly change once he met Mrs Booth?

Matt: Well, this movie threw a lot of information at me so I’m not sure but I interpreted that as shame and embarrassment over having neglected his family. I thought it was easier for him to start over with a new family than repair the damage that he did to his first one.imagesCAC12HG6

Jay: I felt like he genuinely just didn’t care. Like the art was the only thing that mattered to him. He didn’t have time or interest in relationships, except for his father, whom he cherished yet seemed to treat as a servant. There were so many seemingly contradictory aspects of the character that I can’t believe Spall pulled it off, and with grunts half the time rather than words! Timothy Spall has received many accolades for his portrayal of Mr. Turner, including best actor from the London Film Critics, the New York Film Critics, and the Cannes Film Festival. Usually known as more of a character actor, how do you feel about his failure to earn an Oscar nomination?

Matt: Well, I wouldn’t call it a failure because it was one of the best performances I’ve seen all year. He’s an actor I’ve always admired and Leigh is the only director I can think of who would have the balls to cast Spall as a lead. I think the Academy snub is mostly due to 2014 just being a particularly competitive year when it comes to male lead performances with David Oyelowo already being one of the most controversial Oscar snubs in recent memory. I think the main difference between the Oscars and the awards that Spall has already won is that the Oscars are a huge television event and they have to walk that fine line between being “prestigious” but also putting on a good show. So they want Bradley Cooper and Benedict Cumberbatch to show up. I think the Oscars try to find a balance between the tastes of critics and the tastes of audiences and I think Spall’s snub mostly boils down to Mr. Turner’s failure – or lack of effort – to connect with the general public.

MrTurner1_495_305_c1Jay: Agreed. It WAS a great year to be a man in the movies, but then again, isn’t it always? I mean, it’s great to be a male artist period, as evidenced by Turner himself. He lived the life he wanted while abusing the various women in his life. I like how Leigh presented this to us without judgement. Here is a man, who is both great, and deeply flawed. And I loved how the whole movie took on a glow, like it was a painting come to life. Actually, many of the many scenes n Mr. Turner open in long shot, with this huge, gorgeous landscape and Turner barely visible down in the corner, just a solitary outline of a figure. It kind of reminded me of the “hidden” elephant in one of his canvasses. Tip of the hat to all the film makers who made that feeling possible.