Tag Archives: Vanessa Kirby

Sundance 2021: The World to Come

Picture it: mid-19th century American East Coast frontier. Life is hard; it’s round the clock, back breaking work just to stay alive. It’s dirty, full of drudgery, isolating, dark, and monotonous.

Dyer (Casey Affleck) is a poor farmer who will toil his whole life away and never have anything to show for it. His wife Abigail (Katherine Waterston) works just as hard at even more menial tasks. Their relationship is predicated on hard work and common sense. Their life is colourless, hard-scrabble, and bereft after the loss of their only child. When another couple appears in the “neighbourhood” (which is to say, another isolated cabin miles and miles away), their dreary lives are cheered just a little bit by the ability to see another face once in a while. Abigail becomes particular friends with the wife, Tallie (Vanessa Kirby), though Tallie’s husband Finney (Christopher Abbott) is a real stick in the mud, another burden to be borne, but worth the price of seeing Tallie.

If Dyer notices that Abigail and Tallie are growing closer by the day, he’s hardly the type to say anything, but Finney is much more jealous, and perhaps this isn’t the first time his wife has wandered over to someone else’s homestead. Abigail and Tallie relieve their loneliness and ignite something in each other’s company. Their relationship turns intimate, and physical, a balm on their otherwise psychologically taxing existence.

The World To Come is based on Jim Shepard’s lyrical story of the same name, which is fine for a piece of literature but translated less well on screen. Katherine Waterston provides a poetic voice-over that grows tiresome very quickly, not to mention suspicious. Dyer, who eats potatoes for every meal of every day of his sad little life, hardly seems the type to have said that “contentment is a friend who rarely visits” although the sentiment, at least, rings true, the biggest excitement in his life provided by a molasses enema when he gets the flu.

Waterston and Kirby are wonderful together, and the setting is absolute perfection. The sense of longing and emptiness are well conveyed, and Waterston does a fine job embodying both Abigail’s stoic reticence and the private, flowery language of her journal. The World to Come has plenty of isolated aspects to admire but they amounted to a boring film and a frigid love story that I didn’t need to see (again: this is hardly the first of its kind). Mona Fastvold is an excellent director who picked a crummy script and failed to breathe enough life into the story to justify it or indeed to hold any emotional heft. This one left me cold.

 The World To Come will be released via video on demand on March 2, 2021.

Mr. Jones

Gareth Jones, Foreign Affairs Adviser to the British MP (and former prime minister, I take it), David Lloyd George, makes a room full of stuffy MPs laugh when he tells them they’re already at war. They roll their eyes at him, but he’s not wrong. Mr. Jones (James Norton) has a knack for allowing very little to escape his observation. Out of his government position, Jones returns to freelance journalism and he knows just where to go: the Soviet Union.

It’s the early 1930s and Mr. Jones is very suspicious of the Soviet Union’s boasting over the radio about its spending spree. What is funding all these new improvements? Gareth Jones wants to know. But upon arrival he finds journalists very thoroughly and very strictly quarantined to Moscow. Things are plentiful, the people seem well, but none of the other journalists seem bothered by the carefully curated perspective, and none are digging deeper. Walter Duranty (Peter Sarsgaard), the Pulitzer-prize winning  Moscow bureau chief of The New York Times, is pointedly unperturbed. Mr. Jones isn’t buying it, and with a little help from Duranty’s assistant, Ada Brooks (Vanessa Kirby), he’s able to sneak out of the city. Everywhere he went, he found famine, vast and severe. Man-made famine; in fact, man-made genocide.

Now called the Holodomor, a term which emphasizes the famine’s intentional aspects such as rejection of outside aid, confiscation of household food, and restriction of population movement. Several million Ukrainians died. At the time, Jones was threatened by Soviet authorities to smother his reports. The world, still sympathetic to Bolshevism, wasn’t ready to hear the truth. He broke the news in the western media, and they largely rejected it. The Kremlin denied it, as did their puppet Duranty. And yet Jones pursued that truth at great risk to himself.

Early on in the film, there was a shot of sunlight filtered through a sow’s ear, and I thought “God, this is going to be unbearably beautiful, isn’t it?” Credit to cinematographer Tomasz Naumiuk, of course, but in the end it wasn’t so much unbearable as welcome and necessary. It’s not just the unyielding parade of suffering and starvation, it’s the somewhat disjointed way the story is told. Director Agnieszka Holland preserves human horror better than most, perhaps better than any, but she’s less adept at telling Gareth Jones’s story in a cohesive manner. There may be room for improvement, or at least a tightening of the reins, but like Jones himself, Holland’s work reminds us of how important it is to witness, and to remember.

TIFF20: Pieces of a Woman

Martha (Vanessa Kirby) and Sean (Shia LaBeouf) are excited to welcome their first child. Well, excited/terrified in proportions that vary wildly from moment to moment, and depending on what kind of shade Martha’s judgy and manipulative mother Elizabeth (Ellen Burstyn) is throwing. Usually it’s quite a lot, but what can they say when she’s co-signing the loan on their new minivan?

Martha is opting for a home birth but of course when she goes into labour, some other thoughtless pregnant lady is monopolizing her midwife and she has to settle for her back-up, Eva (Molly Parker). It’s not exactly the birth plan Martha had naively hoped for, but none of it matters once those contractions get serious. Her labour is long and difficult, and we get a front row seat. It is raw and captivating, told in a good 30 minute chunk of some of the most intimate film making I’ve ever seen.

Director Korn√©l Mundrucz√≥ shows the birth of a beautiful baby girl in excruciating, glorious detail. Her death is much more swift. It is easy enough to show a baby’s arrival, and I suppose also her loss, but it is another thing entirely to show a mother learning to live without her.

Vanessa Kirby is astonishing in this – numb with grief, achingly lonely, and finally, explosive with anger. The film’s second half can’t quite compete with its dizzying first (very little can), but even if it occasionally slips, Kirby does not, she soldiers on, the portrait of a woman fractured by her loss, still wearing badges of motherhood without the defining, essential thing. Her life, her home, her relationship have all become haunted by the ghost of such brief life. Martha stumbles along the path toward some kind of acceptance, but Kirby’s Oscar track is sure-footed and just.

Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw

Remember when the Fast & Furious gang were street racers who dabbled in highway robbery? Because the franchise’s writers seem to have totally forgotten. The street races are long gone, replaced with international espionage, world-devastating weapons, and an ever-growing cast of action heroes.

Two of those additional action heroes, Hobbs (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) and Shaw (Jason Statham), are now spinning off from the main storyline and saving the world without any help from the rest of the franchise’s former street racers. This time, Idris Elba plays the unstoppable cyborg bad guy who’s racing against Hobbs and Shaw to track down a supervirus that Shaw’s superspy sister (Vanessa Kirby) injects herself with. Luckily, the supervirus takes 72 hours to take effect, giving Hobbs and Shaw a chance to find a way to extract it…if only they could put aside their differences and find a way to work together.

Of course Hobbs and Shaw will find a way to work together, but it takes longer than you’d expect. Probably because Vin Diesel isn’t around to remind everyone that they’re family.  That’s Hobbs & Shaw in a nutshell: a very competent (though brainless) action movie that more than anything will make you miss Diesel and the rest of his Fast & Furious family.

No matter how many explosions or dune buggies are involved in a showdown with the villain’s helicopter, Hobbs & Shaw doesn’t measure up to the other instalments in this franchise. At best, it’s a teaser trailer for Fast & Furious 9, but the energy that went into Hobbs & Shaw probably would have been better spent on something involving the whole crew. Because when it comes to big, dumb action films, bigger is better, and that’s a lesson I thought this franchise had learned a long time ago.