By Brian D. Johnson - Friday, December 21, 2012 - 0 Comments
The Christmas rush of holiday movies is upon us, and if you find this whole notion of peace on earth is already beginning to wear thin, they offer some harrowing alternatives. Two of them, Jack Reacher and Django Unchained, had their premieres cancelled last weekend because their scenes of gun violence were considered inappropriate so soon after the Newtown massacre. Jack Reacher, which reboots Tom Cruise’s career as a action hero, has landed with especially unfortunate timing in light of the Sandy Hook massacre—it opens with a scene of a sniper killing five random civilians, including a mother holding a young child. Django, Quentin Tarantino’s tale of slave liberation, is tale of merry vengeance that opens Christmas Day.
Jack Reacher opens Dec. 21, along with Judd Apatow’s fractious family comedy This is 40. Those two studio pictures will likely lead the weekend box office, but also opening Dec. 21 are The Impossible and Rust and Bone, a pair of potent dramas from European directors that could win Oscar recognition. The Impossible is the harrowing tale of a family on holiday torn apart by the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami; Rust and Bone is a romance about an animal trainer (Marion Cotillard) who loses both her legs to a renegade killer whale. No one ever said escaping Christmas would be a walk in the park.
So many movies, so little time. Here’s the rundown:
As a fan of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels, I was as mortified as everyone else when it was first announced that the 5’8″ Tom Cruise would play the 6’5″ Reacher It seemed like a historic coup of miscasting. Since then Child has endorsed both Cruise and the movie, which is loosely based on One Shot, the ninth novel in the Reacher series. Now that I’ve seen it, I still feel Cruise is miscast, and not just because he’s too short. Size doesn’t matter so much on the big screen. But character does. Reacher is a rugged Army veteran, a multi-decorated former U.S. Military Police Major, who has gone rogue and become a drifter. Cruise doesn’t look like he’s a veteran of anything but the gym and the red carpet. Reacher, who has a brutal manner and a forensic intellect, is cool, detached and laconic. He’s like a human bullet: smooth, fast and hot. Too intensely polished for the role. That said, he’s an athletic actor who is always impressive in hand-to-hand combat. He functions best with blunt, minimalist dialogue, and in that sense he makes the character his own. Continue…
By Jessica Allen - Tuesday, September 11, 2012 at 8:56 AM - 0 Comments
From the screener to the red carpet to the film’s after party at Soho House, these seniors sure know how to have fun
As the credits rolled after a recent screening of Quartet, the man next to me collapsed his head. ”I never cry in real life,” he said, “but I’ve being doing it a lot during these TIFF screeners.”
Dustin Hoffman’s directorial debut features four opera singers in a retirement home in the English countryside. The film ends when the septuagenarians (Maggie Smith, Billy Connolly, Tom Courtenay and Pauline Collins) perform Verdi’s Rigoletto.
“Twenty-five years ago, I saw my first opera,” my seat-mate said. “It was Rigoletto.”
As the lights went on and before we parted ways, my new friend made introductions. ”I’m George,” he said, as in Stroumboulopoulos.
At Quartet’s TIFF premiere at the Elgin Theatre on Sunday night, the four stars and their 75-year-old director were in top form. Billy Connolly, wearing black patent leather shoes with oversized tassles, laughed when I asked if he shared the “appetites” of his character Wilf, who boasted the libido of a teenager. “We’re nothing alike,” laughed the actor, who once said in an interview, “I’m a very f—ing wealthy person, I’m married to a very beautiful woman and I get laid with monotonous regularity.”
By Brian D. Johnson - Friday, November 5, 2010 at 10:24 AM - 0 Comments
- Robert Downey Jr. (left) and Zach Galifianakis in ‘Due Date’
It’s hard to come to a movie without preconceptions. I saw Zach Galifianakis spark up a joint on Real Time With Bill Maher last week, thinking I was watching history being made, but then Maher tells Wolf Blitzer on CNN that it wasn’t weed after all, just cloves—”otherwise I would have smoked it.” Now I’m wondering if, instead of getting an on-air buzz, Galifianakis was just creating buzz for Due Date, in which plays an addled stoner opposite Robert Downey Jr.. A few nights ago, Letterman had Robert Downey Jr. on and Dave went into full-bore flattery mode, raving about Due Date as if it were the greatest movie ever made. At he prattled on, Downey kept rolling his eyes, as if to say, “Dave, what were you smoking?” Due Date is a formula comedy, a buddy road movie that plays like a highball mix of The Hangover and Trains, Planes and Automobiles, with Downey cast against type as the sober straightman and Galifianakis acting typically off-kilter as his shambolic travelling companion. So how is it? Well, I could have done without the masturbating dog. Really. But Due Date pretty funny. . . in places. While the story just goes through the motions, an acerbic Downey turns the movie into a meta acting class, with wild child Galifianakis serving as his puppy-dog apprentice.
Despite a brief, blousy appearance by Juliette Lewis as a dope dealer, Due Date is a very much a boy’s movie. So is the other big studio picture opening this weekend—Megamind, a thin but surprisingly witty 3-D animated feature from DreamWorks. It’s a smart, sparky send-up of the super-antihero, or anti-superhero, with a post-modern finesse that reminded me of Ghostbusters. You know that there’s something screwy about Hollywood when a blockbuster cartoon presents a more profound and nuanced view of good and evil than a high-pedigree political drama. I’m referring to Fair Game, which dramatizes the real-life scandal involving unmasked CIA spy Valerie Plame Wilson, who was stripped of her secret identity after her husband, Joseph Wilson, blew the whistle on the mythical weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Powered by a strong performance from Naomi Watts, Fair Game tells a compelling and necessary tale. But in the interests of political clarity, righteous moral drama is allowed upstage human intrigue.
Also playing in limited release this weekend in Toronto are two top-notch documentaries. Marwencol , playing at the TIFF Bell Lightbox, is a stranger-than-fiction portrait of an outsider artist working with dolls in the no man’s land between art and delusion; and A Drummer’s Dream, a wonderful music documentary from Canadian filmmaker John Walker, is essential viewing for percussion fans—playing at Toronto’s Royal Cinema, it deserves to be seen on the big screen with full theatrical sound.
More details . . .
Any resemblance to The Hangover is not coincidental. Due Date was produced, written and directed by The Hangover‘s Todd Phillips. Instead of a gang, we have an odd couple: Peter Highman (Downey Jr.), expectant father, and Ethan Tremblay (Galifiankis), aspiring actor and disaster magnet. In The Hangover, the boys were trying to make it home for a wedding; in this case, the deadline is the birth of Peter’s first child. Ethan literally bumps into him at the Atlanta airport, where his shenanigans get both of them kicked off a flight to L.A. and placed on the no-fly list. Which sets the stage for a cross-country road trip in a rental car, with Ethan bringing along his dog plus his father’s ashes in a coffee can. But the story seems secondary to the casting, which involves twofold role reversals. First there’s the drug thing—with Downey, notorious ex-drug addict, cast as a sober control freak in a crisp suit opposite a stoner. Then there’s the thespian thing—with Downey, genius actor, playing the foil for a character who is heading to L.A. with delusions of Hollywood grandeur. At one point, Downey’s character actually starts giving Ethan a method acting lesson, and some sense the whole movie is kind of acting showdown between the hyper-controlled veteran and the reckless upstart. Along the way, there are some wild tonal shifts—the movie’s lunges into sentiment feel contrived. And, like some of Judd Apatow’s comedies, this is a buddy movie that pushes the homoerotic envelope. Between his much-talked-about perm and his fey mannerisms, Galafianakis offers ample suggestion his character could be gay without spelling it out. And Downey, whose character has a violent temper, acts so straight he could be in the closet. As for the masturbating dog . . . don’t ask, don’t tell. Continue…
By Brian D. Johnson - Friday, May 21, 2010 at 11:25 AM - 0 Comments
I gorged on four films yesterday, covering all the food groups. They included two aggressive political dramas about Iraq war cover-ups—Doug Liman’s Fair Game from the U.S. and Ken Loach’s Route Irish from the U.K. Fair Game is another message movie courtesy of Participant Media (Inconvenient Truth, Countdown to Zero), America’s designated voice of cinematic liberalism. It’s a ripped-from-the-headlines drama about Joseph Wilson and his wife, Valerie Plame Wilson—respectively the ex-diplomat and CIA spy who became targets of a White House smear campaign after Wilson became a whistleblower exposing WMD fraud. You would think that the politics would be the most compelling aspect of a movie like this, which is based on the couple’s respective books. And to be sure, the official narrative sprints along with the hopped-up, jittery energy of a political thriller. But the political story has been told. Curiously, the most explosive acting from Sean Penn and Naomi Watts occurs in the scenes of domestic tension, and ultimately in a flat-out marital fight. Fair Game is no Mr. And Mrs. Smith, but it does present an extreme example of two working parents with wild jobs. Plame’s character takes the heroism of the working mom to a whole new level—as a mother of young twins who jets around the world doing undercover work in one hot spot after another. She’s almost too good to be true, the all American spy/mom. When not running dangerous covert operations, and keeping her husband’s temper in check at dinner parties, she’s the one who has her eye on the kids in the brief nanny-free interludes at home. Penn, meanwhile, portrays his character as enough of a grandstanding blowhard that, while we’re expected to appreciate his heroism, we have to wonder how happy Joseph Wilson would be with his own portrayal.
Ken Loach’s Route Irish is more extremist stuff. It’s a fighting-fire-with-fire tale of dirty tricks among private military contractors in Iraq. The hero is an angry young Brit, an ex-soldier who suspects foul play in the death of his best buddy from a roadside bomb on the road to Baghdad airport. The story isn’t about the war on terror, but about the war within the war on terror. And it features a novel conceit—one of the good guys who resorts to torturing his own kind. But again, it seems no Iraq message movie is complete without a domestic firefight, as the hero and his dead buddy’s wife engage in some torrid sexual hostilities. Continue…
By Brian D. Johnson - Saturday, May 15, 2010 at 9:15 PM - 2 Comments
We’re always looking for trends in Cannes. Well, here’s one: I’ve seen six suicides in three movies within the span of 24 hours. Bummer. So as not to spoil anyone’s future viewing enjoyment, I won’t reveal exactly who killed themselves in which movies. But here’s the tally so far: a woman stepped off a building ledge; another leapt through a window; two guys in two different films threw themselves in front of trains; a girl hung herself; and finally, in a piece-de-resistance of self-annihilation, a woman hung herself and burst into flames all at once. Now there’s something you don’t see every day. I wouldn’t want to read too much into this mini-epidemic, but it makes me wonder if creative suicide is the art-house equivalent to the Hollywood car crash: the violent implosion. There’s still more suicide on the horizon. Tomorrow there’s a midnight premiere of Gilles Marchand’s Un autre monde (darkened to Black Heaven in English), a French film about an online femme fatale who coaxes folks to commit suicide—a phenomenon we’ve already seen in an ungainly Japanese movie called Chat Room.
Today, the theme of depression—which matches the unseasonably chilly weather here—continued with a vengeance. This morning we saw back-to-back movies about messed-up, unloved Englishwomen—Mike Leigh’s Another Year and Woody Allen’s You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger. The Leigh film begins with a haggard Imelda Staunton begging a lady doctor for sleeping pills. She is referred to a lady psychologist, who asks her to rate her happiness on a scale of 1-10, and she says, “One.” In the Allen film, a matriarch swallows 40 sleeping pills in a failed suicide attempt after being dumped by a Viagra-popping Anthony Hopkins, who gets remarried to a gold-digging hooker (Lucy Punch). With no real plot aside from ultra-real relationships that unfold on a delicate knife-edge of wit and pathos, Another Year is a quiet masterpiece—a pitch-perfect study of the “quiet desperation” that, to quote Pink Floyd, “is the English way.”
Leigh has been refining this study for a long time, and here he distills it to the pure essentials. This deft ensemble piece revolves around a needy, flighty, middle-aged divorcee (Lesley Manville) who is desperate for love, and who clings to a happily married and infinitely tolerant couple (Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen). It’s a gentle yet ruthless portrait of common garden angst (as opposed to the existential French variety), lubricated by dinner-party alcoholism.
Viewed right after it, Woody Allen’s buoyant confection comes as a tonic. It, too, involves a middle-aged divorcee, and it was a breeze to watch. But after Mike Leigh, Woody’s shameless contrivance seems awfully broad, as it jockeys between a parody of Viagra entitlement (Anthony Hopkins) and old-fashioned fantasies of adulterous lust (Naomi Watts, Antonio Banderas and Josh Brolin). The actors are a pleasure to watch. But in Woody Allen’s prolific canon, the film is average, just another gig from the compulsive auteur who makes a movie a year, rain or shine. He, in fact, could have used Mike Leigh’s title, Another Year.
Woody, meanwhile, did some sedentary stand-up at a Cannes press conference with his characteristic meditations on mortality:
“My relationship with death remains the same. I’m strongly against it. I find it a lousy deal. There is no advantage to getting older . . . I’m 74 now and you don’t get smarter, you don’t get wiser, you don’t get more mellow, you don’t get more kindly. Nothing happens. But your back hurts more, you get more indigestion, your eyesight isn’t as good and you need a hearing aid. It’s a bad business getting older and I would advise you not to do it if you can avoid it.” Relatively speaking, that’s a sunny outlook in this year’s Cannes: it does, at least, preclude suicide.
By Lianne George - Thursday, June 4, 2009 at 9:30 AM - 4 Comments
The GG raw food rivalry, Veronica finally wins Archie, and Kanye West is a “non-reader”
Seal of approval
Inuit leaders are delighted by the positive publicity that Governor General Michaëlle Jean has attracted to the seal hunt ever since she appeared on camera last week snacking on a freshly slaughtered pup. During a visit to Nunavut, Jean partook in the skinning of a seal with a traditional ulu blade, and sampled a piece of its heart, calling it “fresh” and “delicious.” (According to Jean, this delicacy has the texture of sushi, but with a meatier taste.) One restaurant in Montreal told the CBC that sales of its seal appetizer have doubled since the video emerged. Adrienne Clarkson—in Nunavut last week, like Jean, for a symposium hosted by her husband John Raulston Saul—doesn’t see what the big deal is. She’s been eating raw food in the region for almost 40 years, and it never made headline news. “It’s nothing new to me, okay?” she told reporters. “I have a lovely sealskin coat . . . I’ve eaten raw food since 1971—and there you are.”
She said she wanted a revolution
For the first time since Sara Jane Moore, 77, was imprisoned for attempting to assassinate president Gerald Ford in 1975, she admitted last week that her actions were “a serious error.” Back in the mid-’70s, Moore, then a 45-year-old single mother, says she became caught up in the anti-Vietnam War protest movement in California. “I became immersed in it,” she told Matt Lauer, the host of NBC’s Today Show. “We were saying the country needed change. I genuinely thought that [shooting Ford] might trigger that new revolution in this country.” It was on Sept. 22, 1975, that Moore fired on Ford as he greeted a crowd in San Francisco. She missed his head by mere feet. After serving 32 years in jail, six of which she spent in solitary confinement, Moore was released on parole in 2007. Over time, she said, she “began to realize that I had let myself be used.” When host Lauer asked her why she was speaking out now, she said, “I think that one gets tired of being thought of as a kook, a monster, an alien.”
By Brian D. Johnson - Friday, February 13, 2009 at 12:08 PM - 0 Comments
Before Daniel Craig was cast as the new 007, Clive Owen, the other True Grit Brit Who Can Act, was heavily touted for the role. No doubt, he would have been an excellent Bond. And after soldiering through The International with a license to wear stubble, he probably wishes he were Bond. I’m sure Clive would rather be enjoying an ice-cold martini, and contemplating cruel sex with a devastating babe, rather than plunging his grizzled mug into sink full of ice cubes and water so that a show-off German director can shoot him from the POV of the drain.
From the ubiquitous trailers, you would assume The International is a Clive Owen/Naomi Watts movie. Not true. It’s a Clive Owen movie, a generic thriller in which Owen shoulders the burden of a over-wound plot as Louis Salinger, a sleep-deprived Interpol cop who chase bad guys through picturesque world capitals. Watts, cast as Manhattan assistant district attorney Eleanor Whitman, tags along like an anxious mom, worrying about his health and sanity. The International is a tale global conspiracy with locations typed out it in the corner of the screen to the pulse of a portentous electro-beat. But compared to Bond or Bourne, this is second-rate stuff, and the suspense is choked by heavy-handed pretensions to intelligence. Like most espionage thrillers these days, including the Bond films, the enemy is high finance and the plot involves a shady arms deal. In this case, the villain is an invincible bank, which is more than ironic in light of the current fiscal meltdown. Lines like this become unintentionally comic: “The real value of a conflict is in the debt it creates—you control the debt, you control everything.”
The International is directed by German filmmaker Tom Tykwer (Run, Lola, Run), who has a great eye for urban landscape but a tin ear for dialogue, or at least the English-language variety. He has pulled off a rare feat, something I would have thought impossible: he’s extracted a bad performance from Naomi Watts. The flat line readings delivered by Watts make her sound like an overgrown child lost in a Nancy Drew adventure. She doesn’t just phone in her performance, she texts it—quite literally in one ludicrous scene where she corresponds with a source in what appears to be a blatant product placement for Blackberry. This is perhaps the first thriller in which the purr of a Blackberry’s vibrate alert, amplifed in Dolby 5.1, has been used as a suspense device. Continue…