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Ewan Mcgregor (#110 of 11)

Berlinale 2017 Danny Boyle’s T2 Trainspotting

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Berlinale 2017: T2 Trainspotting Review

TriStar Pictures

Berlinale 2017: T2 Trainspotting Review

Compared to its predecessor, T2 Trainspotting is a relatively aimless and sedate experience. But that’s to be expected for a film that’s largely about people trying to move on from the follies of their youth and finding themselves unable to let go of the past. Director Danny Boyle’s style this time around fully reflects this: Dialing down the devil-may-care impulsiveness that he brought to disquietingly exhilarating effect in Trainspotting, he allows a reflective melancholy to seep through even the film’s loosest sections, a quality that was nowhere in evidence in the original because the characters were too busy getting high or trying to avoid falling back into the habit.

Toronto Film Review Ewan McGregor’s American Pastoral

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Toronto Film Review: Ewan McGregor’s American Pastoral

Lionsgate

Toronto Film Review: Ewan McGregor’s American Pastoral

One of the most despairing and searching works of American literature, Philip Roth’s Pulitzer Prize-winning American Pastoral is a tragicomic grotesque that exaggerates both sides of the generation gap to better explore the conflict between young and old. Ewan McGregor’s inert adaption, however, smooths out the 1997 novel’s eruptions of self-loathing and doubt, leaving only loose sketches of conflict that bid for prestige. That McGregor himself plays Seymour “Swede” Levov, the goy-passing Jew whose idyllic life is shattered by bad-seed daughter Merry (Dakota Fanning), is the film’s first problem. The Scottish actor in no way embodies the crux of Roth’s character: that of a man whose hard work and ambition for the quintessential American life ultimately can only pay off thanks to his genetic fortune.

Toronto International Film Festival 2013 John Wells’s August: Osage County

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Toronto International Film Festival 2013: John Wells’s August: Osage County
Toronto International Film Festival 2013: John Wells’s August: Osage County

The process of adapting the Pulitzer- and Tony-winning August: Osage County, Tracy Letts’s vitriolic epic of familial dysfunction, poses, to borrow a phrase from one of its characters, quite a Gordian knot. With its icky revelations, not to mention the fact that nearly every character in the large ensemble is either a naïve nitwit or an aggressive asshole, the material isn’t exactly audience-friendly. Summer Stock with a score, the film gets to the meat of the play while slightly compromising its darker, murkier undertones. Instead of transcending the source material, John Wells, whose only previous feature is The Company Men, toys with packaging the material in a way that maintains the play’s themes while remaining cautious of its vituperative vigor.

Oscar Prospects: The Impossible

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Oscar Prospects: The Impossible
Oscar Prospects: The Impossible

If there’s a film this season that’s poised to nab Oscar’s Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close vote, joining a generously wide Best Picture field for its cloying take on a recent tragedy, it’s definitely J.A. Bayona’s The Impossible, a markedly odd prestige picture with enough capital-A acting and capital-I issues to distract from its dire mix of sentiment and insensitivity. Charting one family’s struggle to survive amid the devastation of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, this epic, fact-based tearjerker is already raking in critical acclaim, despite its pedestrian retooling of the disaster-movie formula. On this site alone, venom has been spat regarding the central family’s ethnicity, which was changed from Spanish to British in a move that reeks of commercial compromise. The contentious racial topic may well miff some Academy members of color (and the astute ballot-casters who love them), but likely not enough to quell the movie’s apparent wave of supporters. (Get it?) One should hope that savvier voters will simply dismiss the film for reasons more foundational than whitewashing, for The Impossible is essentially a topical twist on a Roland Emmerich deathfest, wherein viewers are subjected to endless weather-fueled carnage, with the salvation of the core cast serving as self-satisfied consolation. Indeed, this is all inspired by a true story (as an emboldened pre-film title card is sure to hammer home), but, true or not, the strength of a story is in the telling, and what’s peddled here is the convenient eminence of folks to whom, in comparison, all other survivors pale.

Oscar 2012 Nomination Predictions: Supporting Actor

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Oscar 2012 Nomination Predictions: Supporting Actor
Oscar 2012 Nomination Predictions: Supporting Actor

Long before he delivered an über-classy acceptance speech at last night’s Golden Globes, a speech that Oscarcast producers are surely hoping he has the wherewithal to repeat, Christopher Plummer had the Supporting Actor race all sewn up. For his tender turn as Ewan McGregor’s late-blooming gay father in Beginners, the 82-year-old has been racking up the precursors, climbing toward a Kodak Theater standing O that’s been in the cards since his movie dropped last June. If he were to lose, by the freak chance that voters were cool with slighting one of cinema’s most beloved Oscar-less veterans, Plummer’s trophy would go to Albert Brooks, who went way against type in Drive, playing a calculating Hollywood shitbag who cuts throats (Producers Branch? Check.). The third lock in this category is Kenneth Branagh, who hammed it up royally as Sir Laurence Olivier in My Week with Marilyn (a knee-jerk candidate since his gig was announced, Branagh owes much to the casting director, whose thespian-as-thespian stunt exceeds the actual work).

Seattle International Film Festival 2011: The First Grader, Beginners, & The Future

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Seattle International Film Festival 2011: <em>The First Grader</em>, <em>Beginners</em>, & <em>The Future</em>
Seattle International Film Festival 2011: <em>The First Grader</em>, <em>Beginners</em>, & <em>The Future</em>

[Editor’s Note: This article is cross-posted at Parallax View.]

Opening night—rarely a strong point of SIFF—arrived with one of the least memorable films of recent memory—even more frustrating since it had already opened theatrically in New York to tepid reviews. The First Grader, the dramatized odyssey of an 84-year-old man who takes up the Kenyan’s government’s promise of universal education to learn to read, otherwise hits all the right notes for a Seattle event, and does so with thudding predictability. It’s an uplifting story of triumph over adversity in a third world setting, a true story with resonance in recent history and current events, and a feature built on waves of swelling music and seas of the adorable faces of children to trigger the audience’s nervous systems like a Pavlovian response. What could have been a resonant exploration of the tensions left over decades after the Mau-Mau rebellion and the lingering feelings of betrayal from both sides of the Kenyan people simply checks off the issues before setting up stock conflicts and easy-to-identify villains on the way to triumph. I understand the SIFF was seriously pursuing a far more substantial feature that, by fault of their own, fell through at the eleventh hour and I applaud their efforts on that count. But that doesn’t make The First Grader any less unimpressive.

Tightrope-Walking Cynical Humanist: On Recent Woody Allen

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Tightrope-Walking Cynical Humanist: On Recent Woody Allen
Tightrope-Walking Cynical Humanist: On Recent Woody Allen

There have been complaints that the Woody Allen of the ’00s does not live up to the Woody Allen of the ’70s or ’80s. But there are four moments (thematic footfalls) that prove him to be just as he’s always been—the rarest and greatest of tightrope-walking cynical humanists.

The Dueling Tongues

The Curse of the Jade Scorpion is set in 1940 (the same year that His Girl Friday and its faster-than-bullets/sharper-than-knives dialogue was released) and contains some of the outwardly meanest dialogue Allen has ever written. C.W. (Allen) and Fitzgerald (Helen Hunt), warring employees at an insurance firm, trade insults set to a rapid metronome that sometimes falters when it comes time for C.W. to shoot. The slight pauses and stutters between retorts offer light into the crevices of his personality. It’s the central condition of the Allen character (be it played by Allen or a surrogate), the quick-witted egoist who, when it really comes down to it, is shivering with insecurity. Whereas Grant and Russell’s dueling tongues send confident and strident sparks, Allen’s words are reluctant, gripping onto his vocal cords for an extra moment before being forced out. His is a cinema populated with men who wince as they unload the barrels of their mouths.

Troubled Heart: Cassandra’s Dream

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Troubled Heart: <em>Cassandra’s Dream</em>
Troubled Heart: <em>Cassandra’s Dream</em>

What does Woody Allen believe in? Across 40 years he has spoken publicly of his atheism and general pessimism while drawing from these sentiments in even his goofiest comedies. He has been in psychoanalysis for about as long as he’s been making films, and the dialogue in his screenplays often reads like an analyst’s notes. Allen may keep coming up with new premises for his movies, but there are no mysteries about the man that his 40-plus films haven’t laid open like franks on a grill (apologies to Ghostface Killah). Cassandra’s Dream is more of the same, just bigger and blacker. (No, not in that sense. You crazy?) The almost believable tragedy that unfolds here is on roughly the same scale as his last wristcutter, Match Point, but he gestures more broadly to the Greeks, the Good Book and the Timeless Futility of It All. In case you missed it last time, he wants you to get it here: Life is profoundly cruel and unfair.

Appreciation: Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

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Appreciation: <em>Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith</em>
Appreciation: <em>Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith</em>

A contribution to Edward Copeland’s Star Wars blogathon.

The third act resounds in a way no previous Star Wars film has since Vader goaded Luke from hiding inside the Emperor’s chamber within Return of the Jedi’s all-over climax. The best moments in Star Wars, for me, are those naked emotional crises. Those, and, of course, the spectacular spectacles. Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith has both of those in spades. And not just in the third act. The whole film is a visual wonder: from the you-gotta-be-kidding-me opening shot that still gets me giddy to the Yoda-Palpatine Imperial Senate throwdown to General Grievous’s four-armed attack to (fuck it) a bunch of Wookies raging against machines to (fuck it) the dissolves in Anakin’s dream sequences to (hell yes) the engulfing lava showdown and Ewan McGregor’s pure-hurt pleas in that third act climax. And the whole film operates in tandem with its affect-effecting characters. You have to buy into Sith for this part to work; for some, this proves too difficult because of the silly dialogue and the sorta-kinda spotty acting of said silly dialogue and the odd pacing and the typical silly sci-fi plotting choices. I understand this stance. But I cannot hold it. I love Star Wars. And for a final chapter in “the saga” this son-of-a-bitch of a film is just what I want—and just what Star Wars needed. Plus, if Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith had subtitles, English-speaking audiences would be much quicker to accept it, to buy into it, to (fuck it/hell yes) love it.