Tag Archives: Willem Dafoe

Murder on the Orient Express

Hercule Poirot is a world-renowned detective, known almost as much for his venerable mustaches as for his excellent deductive skills. On the way home from solving yet another case successfully, his train gets stuck in the middle of nowhere thanks to an avalanche, and that’s not the worst thing that’s happened aboard the Orient Express. Overnight, there has been a murder most foul. One of the dozen or so passengers is dead, and another must be his murderer. With Hercule Poirot unluckily aboard, can his or her identity remain secret? It seems unlikely.

MV5BMTU4NjU5NDYxNl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNzgyODg0MjI@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1497,1000_AL_Kenneth Branagh directs himself as Agatha Christie’s famed Poirot, and he’s equally right in both roles. He leads an all-star cast including Daisy Ridley, Johnny Depp, Josh Gad, Judi Dench, Michelle Pfeiffer, Penelope Cruz, Willem Dafoe and more. The only thing you can complain about with such an ensemble is that we spend precious little time with any one of them – Dench is particularly underused.

Branagh shoots on 65mm film and the result is luxurious and beautiful; I could barely take my eyes off the scenery, and indeed, the script gave me little reason to. I’m still not sure what genre of movie Murder on the Orient Express was trying to be. There might be a mystery at its core, but the audience feels no particular sense of urgency in solving it. There’s almost zero tension, which seems like a failure when a murderer is trapped among a gaggle of vulnerable potential victims, each with a neck ripe for slicing. And though I commend Branagh’s attempt at making Poirot sag a little under the pressure of his special skill set, the character seems largely untouched by the story unraveling before him. Leached of the emotional heft probably its due, the story never delivers any punch. There’s no real suspense. So while every shot is perfectly composed and the film is a stylistic triumph, it just doesn’t do justice to Christie’s plot.

Advertisements

The Florida Project

Thank you New Hampshire Film Festival for bringing this beautiful film to us. We missed seeing it at TIFF and it got huge buzz. HUGE. Director Sean Baker is following up his crazy-good Tangerine and we’ve been collectively, societally waiting with baited breath for his next effort. It feels like Sean Baker is doing important work without all the trumpets and majorettes and fanfare. But I sort of hope that maybe I can blow the horn a bit here, wave a flag or two: The Florida Project is fucking awesome.

6 year old Moonee has the run of the crummy Orlando motel where she and her mother live in “extended stays.” Halley, her mom, can’t get work at Disney and has no other MV5BYjZhMDZmZjItNjcyZC00ZWY2LTkzMzUtZWM0ZDgyYzM2Nzg2XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNDg2MjUxNjM@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1333,1000_AL_options, so you can imagine some of the crazy things they do for money. It’s a destitute, desperate kind of life but you’d never know it to see Mooney adventuring around free-range with her comrades.

Sean Baker is a master of society’s fringes, and the near-homelessness of the people constantly scrounging for rent between scrapes with the law or family services is about as marginal as you get. Situate that beside the self-proclaimed “happiest place on earth” where the wealthy tourists stay in much nicer digs and it’s an uncomfortable reminder that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.

Moonee, meanwhile, is seemingly untouched by her circumstances. Intellectually, you know it’s not true: that of course she’s affected by what she sees and hears and eats and meets and experiences, and that she’ll find it hard to climb above her mother’s station. But for now she’s a happy-go-lucky kid who rarely faces consequences, although that’s largely thanks to the motel’s manager and de-facto babysitter, Bobby, who is the eyes, ears, caregiver and mediator when parents just aren’t up to snuff. And believe me, this is a building where neglect rules the day. I felt real tension watching these kids be unwatched.

Halley, barely more than a kid herself, and scarcely more responsible, is tattooed with bad decisions but not without sympathy. Bria Vinaite, who plays her, really understands Halley’s sharp corners and soft underbelly. Willem Dafoe gives Bobby a complexity and edge that make his character fascinating. He’s like the beating heart of the building he supervises. But it’s little Brooklynn Prince as Moonee who just about steals the whole gosh darn movie. She is so real and raw it often feels like you’re watching a documentary, and that the stakes are indeed life-altering. Child actors can make or break a movie but Sean Baker has found not one but a trio of incredibly spirited, natural, and talented kids that make this movie what it is.

The Florida Project is audacious, authentic, absorbing. And it’s begging to be watched.

Top 10 Movie Scars

Scars are a movie shorthand. Bad guys often have visible scars, gruesomely healed. Austin Powers’ Dr. Evil has a huge scar, from the corner of his right eye down to his jaw. Freddy Krueger from Nightmare on Elm Street is extensively scarred. Staff Sergeant Bob Barnes in Platoon has a face meant to tell you how crazy he is, right from the start. Most but not all of the scars on this list are found on villains, but in real life scars can criss-cross the bodies of all kinds of people, even, occasionally, good ones. Scars are portraits of courage and bravery, reminders of stupid decisions, the markers of time and change. My left arm was left completely scarred after a car accident; oddly, it is NOT the arm covered in ink (okay, it’s partially covered in ink). They make me a little sad, but also a lot grateful: scars mean you’re still alive.

tumblr_inline_nt3aoaZFge1tpfg2f_500.gifThe Joker: I suppose there are probably dozens of back stories as to how The Joker got his scars, but I love how Chris Nolan approaches them in The Dark Knight. The Joker himself tells several vastly different tales involving their provenance, which reveals nothing about their true nature, but tonnes about his sanity. The way he accents the scars with makeup makes us think he’s proud of them. He wants them to be noticed. Perhaps he wants us to believe they’re self-inflicted. Perhaps they are.

Tony Montana: It’s inevitable that a character nicknamed  ‘Scarface’ will make this list. tonyTony is blase about his scar, laughing it off, attributing it to his youth but never getting specific. It’s obviously a reminder of the past he left behind, and it’s a focal point to his enemies, something that makes him look scary and intimidating, perhaps warning them that he’s capable of violence. But in true Tony spirit, he addresses his scar only thusly: “You should see the other kid; you can’t recognize him.” I bet that’s true.

20110713_scars-1-harrypotter.nocrop.w375.h670Harry Potter: Harry got his distinctive lightning-bolt scar in a failed murder attempt, when Lord Voldemort put a killing curse on him (his mother’s sacrifice saved him from death, but he would bear the mark of the attack). The scar is legendary among the magic set, and it tingles whenever the Dark Lord is near. It wasn’t just a warning system, but a link to what Voldemort was thinking and feeling – actually a small piece of his soul, yearning to escape. Which is pretty crazy.

Edward Scissorhands: Edward’s face (and not just his face) is covered with fine scars, 350191the obvious result of learning the hard way how to live with scissors for hands. They aren’t terrible to look at, and actually give him a sympathetic look, reminding us of his hardships. Since the movie skewers conformity, Edward’s scars are just another thing that set him apart.

Randy ‘The Ram’ Robinson: Randy shows stripper Cassidy some of the many scars he’s accumulated over his years in the ring as ‘The Ram’ in The Wrestler. His broken body is a good indication of his mental state as well, beat down and tired. “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed” Marissa Tomei quotes from the Old Testament. But his worst scar is yet to come: he undergoes bypass surgery on his heart, leaving the tell-tale scar down his chest, a constant reminder that his heart can no longer take the stress of his career. He’s forced into retirement, but can’t quite commit to it.

90f7a43a2555ef092a3825e3a5574878Marv: Sin City’s Marv puts Mickey Rourke on this list twice, ironic considering his own not-insignificant scars. In the 1990s he took up boxing, and had to have lots of reconstructive surgery as a result – two broken noses, a smashed cheekbone – but admittedly went to the wrong doctor to put things right. Finally, after massive amounts of plastic surgery, he’s starting to look good again. Regardless, in Sin City, Rourke’s face in prosthetic scars. Marv is supposed to be too “ugly” to attract the opposite sex, which is why his relationship with Nancy is so pure and good, and highly cherished by him.

Scar: In Lion King, Mustafa’s brother is marked for evil by eye-skimming scar that leaves him disfigured. The movie doesn’t tell us how he got it, but we do kn1000px-Gill-FindingNemo3Dow he’s defined by it, bearing its nickname.

Gill: Gill has terrible scarring to his face and fins after an escape attempt left him badly
wounded by dental tools. Voiced by Willem Dafoe, Finding Nemo’s Gill seems dark and brooding because of his scars, but we come to understand that they’re a symbol of his fight for freedom, and what the fish are willing to risk in order to be free.

tumblr_mlg4d5SRte1s3oe2qo1_250.gifInigo Montoya: “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.” A mysterious man with 6 fingers attacked Inigo’s father, and presumably Inigo’s scar is from that same fight. His greatest wish is to avenge his father’s death, and he spends much of The Princess Bride pursuing the man who left so many scars in his wake.

Darth Vader: Vader’s scars represent his turn from annoying emo brat to pure evil. As main-qimg-b22185b5f56500fa08f9e8b3a426e005-c.jpgthe ghost of Obi-Wan tells Luke: “When your father clawed his way out of that fiery pool, the change had been burned into him forever – he was Darth Vader, without a trace of Anakin Skywalker. Irredeemably dark. Scarred.” Those scars are kept underneath a menacing helmet for much of the series, but when that helmet comes off, oof: impact.

 

 

 

 

The Great Wall

The “Great Wall” is actually just a series of pretty okay walls that we’ve joined together over time. They were being built as early as the 7th century BC, in order to protect China’s borders from invading nomads. It was built over a period of 1700 years and stretches over 8850km.

The film The Great Wall is not nearly as impressive an accomplishment, even by blockbuster standards. It’s an action-adventure-monster movie that represents one of the several legends told about The Great Wall, and the things from which it was supposedly built to protect.

Somebody obviously has some compromising nude pictures of Matt Damon, so he stars as great-wall-movie-matt-damon.jpegthe ambiguous white guy who’s been roaming around with a group looking for black powder. Lots of his men have been picked off and they should have turned back, but instead the remaining men run into a scary beast that eats all but two. Then William and his pal get picked up by the Chinese army near the wall and are more or less taken prisoner, but it seems only so that the white guys can be really impressed by all the Chinese ingenuity.

They’ve been preparing to face these beasts for 60 years. They have special units with special skills: the armoured bear troop engages in combat, the eagles specialize in archery, the tigers have catapults and burning rocks. The crane troop is an all female group who bungee down a pit with spears, and the unlucky deer are the cavalry.

The white guys decide that while the Chinese army is preoccupied with the beast attack, they should seize the opportunity to rob them and run. I was wholly confused by Matt Damon’s American accent in a time period when Americans did not yet exist. A lot of people balked about Matt Damon being cast in this film, but this is not whitewashing as we know it. His character was always supposed to be non-Chinese. I just don’t understand how he’s a medieval Bostonian.

As you can imagine, the battle sequences are pretty eye-popping with all these fancy fight techniques and inventive weaponry. It feels both ancient and futuristic at the same time. Screen_Shot_2016-07-28_at_2.00.40_PM.0.pngCertainly director Zhang Yimou has a visual flair but this movie overly relies on effects and imagery at the expense of literally everything else. Zhang Yimou’s special spice blend is missing. There’s no subtlety. There’s no sensitivity. And the story is just plain lacking. It starts to feel repetitive even within its 104 minutes. But it’s gloriously explody. It is that. Kaboom.

 

 

Spider-Man

The year was 2002. Spiderman, the comic, was 40 years old that year, so it was about damn time somebody finally made a good movie about a character that had been iconic for decades. The movie rights had been in limbo for years, but with Sam Raimi, a dedicated comic book collector, in the director’s chair, it finally came together.

I was married to the wrong guy at the time, and none too pleased about being dragged to the midnight viewing of a movie I was sure I wouldn’t care for. I bet lots of you were there spiderman.pngtoo: Spider-Man set the record for highest gross in a single day, and then broke the record for achieving $100 million dollars the fastest – in just 3 days.

Raimi had liked Tobey Maguire in The Cider House Rules, feeling that character embodied a lot of what Peter Parker should be. The studio, however, was thinking more along the lines of Tobey’s pussy posse playmate, Leonardo DiCaprio, who James Cameron had wanted for the part when he was working on it in the 90s (Charlie Sheen campaigned hard for it, but Cameron didn’t bite). Failing that, maybe Freddie Prinze, Jr.? James Franco tried out for the part, and so did Scott Speedman. Wes Bentley was rumoured to be the favourite. Stan Lee had always envisioned John Cusack for the part, but the in end, Raimi got his way, and Tobey Maguire hit the gym.

Spider-man’s suit went through about a billion different designs before they landed on the one seen in the movie. The suit itself was one piece (except for the mask), excruciating to peel on and off; eventually the costume department relented and built in a little slit so Maguire could pee.

Kirsten Dunst got the part of Mary Jane after Kate Hudston turned it down to make Four Feathers. Alicia Witt, Mena Suvari and Elisha Cuthbert all auditioned for the role. Eliza Dushku’s screen test can be seen in the DVD’s special feature. In the end, Dunst got word that Maguire had been cast and thought the project sounded just indie enough for her taste.

The Green Goblin was maybe hardest to cast of them all. The role was intended to be played by Billy Crudup, who dropped other projects to be available before eventually being told he was too young. Robert De Niro and John Travolta both turned down the part. spider-man-and-the-green-goblin-2002.pngNicolas Cage and John Malkovich were also considered. Finally Bill Paxton was settled upon, but a few meetings later, Sam Raimi was convinced Willem Dafoe was right for the part, so they dyed James Franco’s hair brown to make them look more like father and son, and the rest is history. Bill Paxton got the shaft of course, but his dad still appears in the film, as the Osborns’ elderly housekeeper. The Goblin costume was no picnic either. Originally designed to be quite bulky, it was streamlined when Dafoe decided to do his own stunts (reportedly about 90% of them). In the end, the suit was made up of 580 pieces that took a teak half an hour to put on him.

jk-simmons-jameson-spider-man-2002.jpgJK Simmons seemed a perfect fit for J. Jonah Jameson, but it’s not who Stan Lee would have chosen. His first choice? Himself! He’s very complimentary of Simmons’ portrayal, however. And Jameson’s costume was much simpler, of course, though it did necessitate Simmons’s donning of a wig. Not content to have just one iconic comic book role, JK will soon be appearing as Commissioner Gordon in The Batman and Justice League.

Hugh Jackman was supposed to have been in the movie, in a Wolverine cameo, but on the day he showed up in NYC to film, the crew couldn’t get his costume from the X-Men set!

The CGI in this movie was really advanced for its time, and the special effects wowed the pants off audiences worldwide. Sadly, post-911, some effects had to be used to digitally asset-version-09400601fb-2016-09-07-01_15_16-world-trade-center-in-spider-man-1080p-pt_-1-youtube.pngremove the World Trade towers from several scenes. And a couple of scenes were done the old fashioned way. In one, Tobey Maguire magically catches Mary Jane’s tray full of food. It took 156 takes and a little crazy glue on the tray, but eventually he got it! In another, during that famous upside-down kiss that capture romantic imaginations, Maguire suffered big time, the pouring rain filling up his nostrils and flooding his nasal cavities, making it hard to breathe.

Spiderman is Sean’s favourite super hero. We didn’t get to see these films together, but we did get to see Julie Taylor’s Spiderman: Turn Off The Dark on Broadway. The mounting of it was plagued with difficulty because the stunts were so technical and precise, but seeing Spiderman actually swinging from webs and being dazzled by aerial fight scenes was worth it. With music from U2’s Bono and The Edge, it was a rock-opera-circus show, and a lot of fun. Reeve Carney played Peter Parker, who you may know from Penny Dreadful.

What Sean and I have seen is basically every other comic book movie released since we were together, including those not-very-good Amazing  Spiderman ones with Andrew Garfield. Sean is a comic book lover from way back, having spent hard-earned paper route money on them every time he could convince his dad to drive him to his favourite store in Toronto. His mother made costumes for him and his brothers, and he even got suspended from school over a comic that he drew when he was a teenager (one of his co-conspirators now writes for Marvel and has his own graphic novel series).

So what better way to celebrate Sean’s 40th birthday than with a super hero party? The dude’s in good company. Joe Manganiello, who played Flash Thompson in the 2002 Spider-Man, also turns 40 this year (and will play Deathstroke in The Batman). Corey Stoll, who played Yellowjacket in Ant-Man, turned 40 this year, and so did Michael Pena from the same film. Alicia Silverstone, aka Batgirl, turned 40, and so did Colin Farrell, who played Bullseye, a character that first appeared in the Daredevil series 40 years ago this year. Benedict Cumberbatch (Dr Strange himself) also turned 40 this year, as did Green Lantern\Deadpool, Ryan Reynolds. So it’s a big year for lots of super heroes, but I’m most proud of the one who wears a suit to work rather than tights and fights for justice in a courtroom instead of in the sky. We’ll be toasting him with cocktails like Spidey’s Love Potion, and Superman’s Kryptonite, and they’ll come in little caped cups, just a friendly neighbourhood shindig to celebrate my favourite Asshole. xo

 

A Most Wanted Man

Post-911 Germany is scrambling to make sure nobody uses their country for terrorist organization again. Gunther Bachmann (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is one of the few “good” ones left in an intelligence unit largely corrupted by CIA, but his burnout is evident. When a young Russian-Chechen enters the country illegally, ostensibly looking for asylum, Bachmann decides to use the refugee to move up the ladder, hopefully toward a Muslim philanthropist who Bachmann believes is using charities as a front to fund extremist operations.wanted

Hoffman looks terrible in this film, which kind of fits with the character, who’s a bloated wreck, but it’s still painful to watch. He’s good though, if you overlook his German accent occasionally sounding Irish. Rachel McAdams plays a lawyer trying to help the refugee Issa Karpov (Grigoriy Dobrygin) claim political asylum. Dobrygin plays tortured and traumatized very well but McAdams seems miscast and out of her depth.

This movie is interesting but seems to have tried to pack too much into one single movie, so it’s a bit hard to follow. It’s also the least thrilling espionage thriller I’ve seen in a long time.  It’s not gripping because it gets bogged down in the details. And there’s no real heart. Who are we supposed to care about? The titular character, supposedly this Issa, is supposed to be mysterious. People are arguing over whether to arrest him now, or use him as bait to uncover his hidden motives, not just because he could lead them up the chain, but because they believe he himself may actually be a jihadist. The audience is meant to see him as a threat lying in wait, only he’s such a pathetic character that there is no real urgency, no real menace. In fact, the movie’s strongest sense of sinister undertone comes from conversations between Hoffman and Robin Wright, playing a CIA agent. The actors and director Anton Corbijn hint masterfully at malevolence.

It’s a mostly subtle film that makes you wonder how far is too far. How much should we infringe on someone’s rights in the name of “fighting terrorism”?  This movie will leave you unsettled, with a bitter taste in your mouth, both for the frustrating geopolitical policy, and for Hoffman’s swan song, his last completed movie.