One could describe God’s Own Country as a slightly more graphic Brokeback Mountain, but that would be selling it short. The low-budget, emotionally rich drama paints a dire picture of England’s countryside, with farmers dealing poorly with social change (immigration, homosexuality) and economic depression.
God’s Own Country’s main character is strangely unlikeable. Johnny (Josh O’Connor) is a young man forced by his father’s disability to manage the family farm. Not one capable to deal with his emotions in healthy fashion, the farmer festers in resentment and only finds solace in alcohol consumption and anonymous sex. Johnny is also a closeted gay man, but the idea of a relationship, as limited as going for a pint with another fella, is laughable for him. Continue reading “REVIEW: God’s Own Country Is More than that Other Gay Cowboys’ Movie”
Movies about nuns have a curiously high batting average: From The Sound of Music to The Innocents, there is something fascinating about women choosing a life of worship and deprivation. Novitiate is a fairly realistic depiction of life inside a convent and the result is unbearably dull.
Set during the early 60’s, Novitiate tackles the effects of the Second Vatican Council over a nunnery in Tennessee. The Reverend Mother (Melissa Leo) is reluctant to implement the changes (no more Latin, develop a relationship with the community, no more self-laceration as penitence), fearful it may undermine the nuns’ calling.
We witness the nunnery begin to crumble through the eyes of a novice, Cathleen (Margaret Qualley). Born to an agnostic mother and an absentee dad, Cathleen becomes fascinated by the idea of an intimate relationship with God, but her budding sexuality won’t be denied.
Cathleen is the main problem of the film, but is far from the only one. Qualley, so good in The Leftovers and so terrible in Death Note, is underserved by the script and fails to convey her inner struggle in any interesting way. At the opposite end, Melissa Leo chews the scenery uncontested. She is all fire and brimstone and takes it on the sisters.
If faith is underserved (the movie fails to explain why Vatican II is such a problem in any sensible way), sexuality is treated just as perfunctorily. Novitiate hints at the notion that lesbians joined convents as an alternative to be shun by their communities, but doesn’t have the audacity to develop the idea. Writer/director Margaret Betts is a first timer and it shows: The actors run amok, the plot is flimsy and the character development is very limited.
The film’s mediocrity is highlighted by the coda: The audience is summarily informed that Vatican II inspired nuns to abandon their calling in massive numbers. One wishes Novitiate had tackled the matter head on as opposed to through low-impact drama. Two planets (out of five).
Novitiate opens November 18th at the Roxy Theatre.
Following a shaky start, the DC Extended Universe has reached a modicum of stability (thanks Wonder Woman!). There are still some kinks to work out, but glaring problems like cohesiveness and that whole “Martha!” business seem to be a thing of the past.
Considering the problematic installments that preceded it, Justice League is fine. The story is constrained and doesn’t take itself all that seriously: The Flash notwithstanding, it’s still grimmer than Thor: Ragnarok laugh-fest, which may not be a bad thing. Continue reading “REVIEW: Justice League’s Trial Run”
There is no denying Loving Vincent is an extraordinary achievement. All 65,000 frames of the movie are oil paintings, courtesy of 115 artist who aped Van Gogh’s style for almost a decade. The outcome looks like a living, breathing canvas.
If only the same amount of care had been put on the script.
Story-wise, Loving Vincent is a pedestrian affair, practically pulled from Wikipedia: A year after Vincent van Gogh’s death, Armand, an adrift young man (Douglas Booth, Noah), is tasked with delivering the artist’s final letter to his brother Theo. Doesn’t take too much digging for Armand to discover the brother has been dead for a few months. Finding Theo’s surviving family proves a little more difficult, especially after stumbling on clues that suggest Vincent may not have killed himself.
The mystery of Van Gogh’s death is amped up for dramatic purposes, but the investigation never feels too pressing. The red herrings are painfully obvious and the information is dispensed in roundabout and clumsy ways. Clearly the wrong person for the job, Douglas Booth overdoes it as the lead, as if believing the animation technique may prevent his acting from coming across.
All we are left with is the gimmick. Thankfully, it’s a memorable one. Loving Vincent recreates the artist’s most magnificent creations: Much of the fun of the movie comes from recognizing Van Gogh’s masterpieces on screen, from his many portraits to the ubiquitous “Starry Night”. Pick any detail -cigarette smoke, a windmill in the background- and you will discover remarkable artistry and attention to detail.
One can certainly appreciate the effort put into the making of Loving Vincent, but film is a different medium and requires a more holistic approach than just pretty pictures. 2.5 planets (out of five).
Loving Vincent is now playing at the Roxy Theatre.
Lauren Lee Smith has been a staple of Canadian film and television for over a decade. Her filmography includes niche titles like Lie with Me and Art School Confidential and TV mainstays such as The Listener and The L Word. Frankie Drake Mysteries, the CBC drama that premiered last Monday, is Smith’s first solo lead and she is almost in every scene of the series.
A Murdoch Mysteries spinoff of sorts (the two shows are set 16 years apart and linked by web series), Frankie Drake Mysteries revolves around Toronto’s only female private detective in 1921. Frankie (Smith) is a woman ahead of her time, frequently underestimated, but more resourceful than the police and criminals alike. “I’m a mother to a daughter now and the importance of playing strong female characters has become even a bigger priority”, elaborates the actress.
I had the chance to talk with Lauren about the watershed moment women in the industry are experiencing, and whether she knows in advance if a show has staying power.
– While you’ve been the co-lead on a number of shows, it seems Frankie Drake Mysteries falls squarely on your shoulders. Does it feel differently?
– I think there were maybe three scenes over the course of the entire season that I was not in. Playing the title character is a new experience, a different kind of pressure I wasn’t exactly used to. But having a leadership role gave me the energy on 15-hour days to be a cheerleader for the rest of the cast and crew.
– Considering your experience in other TV shows, do you have an inkling which series are going to last?
– I wish I did. I’m usually the worst person to know these things. Every time I think “this is amazing, this is going to work” … It’s hard to tell, especially considering how the television world changes so drastically year to year. I do think Frankie Drake has a little bit of everything to appeal to a large audience, and we have a really good shot at being successful.
– You are finishing the year very strong, between Frankie Drake Mysteries and your role in The Shape of Water. How long did you work in Water?
– I shot it last summer, I was in Montreal doing This Life when I got a call telling me Guillermo del Toro had a role for me in his next film. I had to pick my jaw up off the ground. I knew nothing about the character, I had a four-month old baby in tow, but decided it had to happen. We drove six hours to Toronto, shot two nights in a row, drove back and continued shooting This Life.
– You play Michael Shannon’s character’s wife. He seems very intense.
– It was a great pleasure getting to work with him. He is such a focused actor and it was incredible to watch his process.
– Would you say you have planned your career?
– When I was in my early twenties, I had this idea of who I wanted to be as an actor and how I wanted my career to go. The moment I let that go and stop worrying so much, the opportunities I was looking for started coming in. Now it’s just about not overthinking it and trust that work will come, which is easier said than done.
– Do you have second thoughts about developing most of your career in Canada?
– Not for a second. When I was younger, there was this constant push to get to L.A. I followed that lead, I did many, many, many pilot seasons and, while I was there, I was constantly getting booked out of Canada. It was ridiculous. Right after CSI, I got Good Dog (HBO Canada) and The Listener (CTV), and I didn’t want to go back. Here is where my family and friends are, I love my country, I didn’t see the point of fighting to do work somewhere else when you are getting great work here.
– Given the recent slew of revelations coming from Hollywood, do you feel the Canadian TV and film industry operates at a different level?
– I do. We have a growing community, but definitely smaller. We are more family oriented, there is a different level of respect, we take care of each other perhaps a little bit more. You are going to see these situations no matter where in the world you are, but based on my experience, I believe in Canada we have a sense of security and safety. That’s my hope, anyway.
Frankie Drake Mysteries. CBC, Mondays at 9 pm. Season premiere is available at watch.cbc.ca.
Those familiar with the Space Channel cult horror-comedy Todd & The Book of Pure Evil may remember the show ended its two-year run on a cliffhanger. Five years later, the resolution has finally arrived: As a feature-length animated film.
Todd & The Book of Pure Evil: The End of the End starts shortly after the events of the series finale, in which relationships became strained and one of the main characters was killed off during the vanquishing of said book. The film doesn’t quite resets the story but reshuffles alliances and gives the student body of Crowley High new reasons to fear attending school.
Quirky as ever, animation frees Todd‘s creative team to up the ante (two words: acidic acne). You don’t necessarily have to know the show to enjoy the film (a thorough recap is provided), but it enhances the experience. The comedy in display is a bit of an acquired taste. That said, those with tolerance for gore and gross-out humour are in the clear.
Todd & The Book of Pure Evil: The End of the End will play only tonight at 9.30 pm at the Roxy Theatre, with director Craig David Wallace and actor Alex House (Todd himself) in attendance.
As high as Marvel’s batting average is, there is a ceiling the MCU movies struggle to break through. Outside the first Iron Man, Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Spider-Man: Homecoming, Marvel has had a hard time generating stakes. Sure, the MCU movies are a guaranteed good time (especially when compared to the DCEU), but I can’t say I’ve been all that invested in the wellbeing of the people of Sokovia, Xandar or New York.
The lack of emotional weight rears its head again in Thor: Ragnarok, but the movie makes up for it with charm and laughs. Far and away the best movie about the God of Thunder and the funniest comedy of the year not involving Stalin, the third Thor movie benefits greatly from having Taika Waititi (What We Do in the Shadows) at the helm. Waititi understands the character better than his predecessors, brings his dry, sharp comic sensibility to the table and makes the most of Chris Hemsworth’s considerable comedy chops. Continue reading “REVIEW: Thor: Ragnarok Is Pure Kiwi Fun”
At the advance screening of Thank You for Your Service, I was informed it was from the same writer of American Sniper. My heart sunk. Alongside Lone Survivor, American Sniper is the most questionable portrait of American military in modern day. Not only Sniper presented a warped version of the Iraq War courtesy of Clint Eastwood, a number of the events depicted by the film turned out to be false.
I’m happy to inform Thank You for Your Service is nothing like Sniper or Survivor. A subdued approach to the less than welcoming environment that awaits soldiers deployed abroad, Thank You for Your Service is devoid of any jingoism. For the characters of this movie, becoming a soldier is a final career opportunity after running out of options.
Adam (Miles Teller), Solo (Beulah Koale) and Will (Joe Cole) are three close friends from Topeka, back in their hometown after serving a tour of duty in Iraq. None of them are in good shape. Adam is wrecked by guilt for his responsibility on the death of a fellow soldier, Solo’s brain is “scrambled” after being blown up seven times (!), and Will is putting all his hopes and dreams on his fiancée, who may not be in the picture by the time of his return.
This is not one of those movies in which the lead doesn’t want help to deal with their PTSD. Adam and Solo are eager to receive assistance, but the backlog is such, they could be waiting for months on end. The delay proves to be unbearable for the young veterans, whose family lives hang by a thread.
Through the entirety of Thank You for Your Service, first time director Jason Hall sustains enormous tension, even though towards the end the film leans on dramatic tropes not at the same level than the rest of the movie. Miles Teller is becoming a very effective and unassuming performer, especially now he is not involved with comic franchises or YA adaptations.
A mishap worth mentioning is the casting of Amy Schumer as a soldier’s widow. She is not bad per se (although her climatic scene could have used a more seasoned dramatic actress), but is definitely distracting. It’s one of those cases in which name recognition comes with a price tag.
Overall, Thank You for Your Service is a healthier take on the costs of war, which reverberate long after the conflict has ended. Something to keep in mind when casually suggesting bombing some country, or stating soldiers know what they signed up for. Three planets.
Thank You for Your Service is now playing at Galaxy Cinemas.
It would be easy to dismiss The Snowman as the standard troubled production that couldn’t be saved in post (three-time Oscar winner editor Thelma Schoonmaker notwithstanding). Alas, the outcome is so uniquely weird -disjointed, beautiful, nonsensical- it’s kind of fascinating how this movie came to be.
Based on Jo Nesbø’s Harry Hole series, The Snowman pits the titular detective (Michael Fassbender) against a serial killer who targets adulterous women. The maniac enjoys taunting his pursuers with childlike notes commenting on their investigation (he doesn’t think highly of it). As the bodies begin to pile up, Hole finds a link between the killings and a decade-old unsolved murder involving Norwegian captains of industry.
While mostly a plot-driven thriller, The Snowman is also a character study. Harry Hole is an alcoholic whose level of self-loathing is so high, he would rather alienate those who love him than give domesticity a try. The film fails to integrate both threads and, for most of the movie, the family drama feels not only disconnected, but unnecessary.
The Snowman unfolds in stilted fashion. Some of Hole’s decisions are baffling and a number of plotlines go nowhere. Director Tomas Alfredson (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) confessed production was rushed and not all the script was shot. This would explain why so often the story is pushed forward via ADR.
The saddest part about this misfire is all the casualties: The possibility of a Harry Hole franchise, Dion Beebe’s gorgeous cinematography, a cast as deep as underutilized (Chloe Sevigny plays twins and still seems barely there), and -above all- Val Kilmer. On the mend from throat cancer, all of Kilmer’s lines have been noticeably dubbed. The actor’s performance is so over the top, it seems to belong to an entirely different film. His weirdness, however, is strangely compelling and one wishes to see more of him.
There are hints of the Tomas Alfredson that brought us the original Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Let the Right One In. Deeply idiosyncratic characters and potent images can be found here and there, but The Snowman never seems under his control. Two planets.
Harry Dean Stanton, the star of Paris, Texas and Repo Man, and supporting performer in neo-classics like Alien and Pretty in Pink, died last September. He was having a banner year: A part in the Twin Peaks revival and a rare lead role in Lucky.
Stanton’s swan song is rolling across art-houses in Canada. Low-key, loaded with meaning but not devoid of humour, Lucky is so timely, it’s eerie.
The titular character (Stanton) is a fixture in his small community in New Mexico. Lucky describes himself as “alone, not lonely”, but a health scare forces him to reevaluate his place in society and his stance on religion.
The great thing about Lucky is that there is no big drama, no reconciliations, no long-buried secrets. Just a nonagenarian coming to terms with his life decisions. Stanton is not quite his character, but is close enough you can recognize the pathos. Pay no attention to the remarkable supporting cast (David Lynch, Ron Livingston, Ed Begley Jr. as town denizens). This is Harry Dean’s movie and his command of the screen is remarkable.
In charge of this compelling but obviously complicated endeavor is another character actor, in his debut behind the camera. John Carroll Lynch is the classic “that guy”, one that has found his way into movies by Martin Scorsese (Shutter Island), Clint Eastwood (Gran Torino) and the Coen Brothers (Fargo). You may recognize him as the most likely suspect in David Fincher’s Zodiac or as the deranged clown who frequents American Horror Story.
I had the chance to sit down with John Carroll Lynch in Toronto. A film scholar and self-aware like few of his peers, there is more to Lynch than his hundred supporting roles.
– What were the main logistical challenges of having a 90-year-old as your lead?
– Technically, he was 89. We finished a week before he turned 90. We staggered the schedule because we wanted to make sure he was as fresh as possible. Keep in mind Harry Dean was 89 and there was nothing wrong with him. We had three day weekends, took time between locations. That being said, the shooting was physically and emotionally taxing for him.
– How do you direct Harry Dean?
– He was never going to act, he was always going to be Harry Dean Stanton. That has been his foundational keystone for fifty years. He wouldn’t respond to character or structural notes. It was a way for him to gage if the story was truthful, and whether or not he could live in it. In my experience of watching film actors, nobody had a stronger sense of ‘being in film’ than Harry Dean Stanton. The Straight Story wouldn’t work without his performance, no matter how good Richard Farnsworth is in it. The emotional impact of the film is in the last five minutes and, without Harry Dean’s ability to go from vendetta to regret to forgiveness to love in five minutes without saying anything, it wouldn’t work.
– What was about this story that made you want to direct it?
– I’ve been trying to leverage myself into the director’s chair for a while and this one came together. What attracted me about the script was the idea of a man realizing he may not have many years left. To get to a place of resolution, he didn’t have to reconnect with a child, jump from a plane or tame a bronco. He just changed his perception of his own life and discovered he was not alone: The town he kept himself separate from had actually been holding him up this whole time. Lucky felt more real to me because it’s an interior journey people actually experience.
– Given your experience working with Scorsese, Fincher and the Coens, what best practices did you learn that you applied in Lucky?
– The thing I appreciate about all the masters I worked with is that they no longer worry about how to do this. They just want to tell a story, and the ‘how’ is based on the ‘why’ and the ‘what’. That is an actionable approach. I’m not quite there, but it’s something to aspire to.
– Both you and Harry Dean have been described as “character actors”. How do you feel about the term?
– I embrace it. It hasn’t hurt me at all. For many people, being a “character actor” means you are not going to get laid in the movie, there won’t be a romantic interest of any kind, and if there is one, it’s abhorrent in some way. You wear overalls and play a lot of cops. I don’t think the term means much of anything nowadays, except in the relationship with the audience. If they recognize you -your face and not your name- they know they are in good hands.
– Do you think Harry Dean knew this was his final performance?
– Absolutely not. He saw Lucky for what it was, not an elegy but a celebration. I don’t think he knew if he was going to work again, but by choice not because of death: He was a guy who wanted to do nothing and rest after.
Lucky opens Saturday 14th at the Broadway Theatre.