Tag Archives: Back Page

Oscar Winners to Watch

Oscar winners to watch

Latest News


Oscar winners to watch

It was astounding to watch this year’s Oscars and see how willing Hollywood’s old boy network was to shake things up, and chart a more inclusive course for the 21st century in world cinema.

Not only did the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences give four marquee Oscars to the stunning South Korean film Parasite, including Best Picture, but the swells inside the Dolby Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard erupted in rapturous applause when Parasite earned the first one.

It went to writer/director Bong Joon Ho and collaborator Han Jin Won for Best Original Screenplay. The energetic reception was the first clue that something extraordinary was happening. When Parasite added Best International Feature Film (newly renamed from Foreign Language Film), the intensity rose. When Bong took Best Director and lovingly paid tribute to his inspirational rival, Martin Scorsese, standing ovations greeted both icons.

It suddenly seemed inevitable that Parasite – a savagely funny, smart, bittersweet and finally violent treatise on the Korean class system and the world’s environmental crisis – would triumph as Best Picture. And it actually is planet earth’s best of 2019.

It is impossible to overstate what a tsunami of change this represents. Not just the first South Korean film to win a slew of awards, Parasite is the first film not primarily in the english language to win Best Picture in Oscar’s 92-year history. As a mixed-genre crime thriller, drama and comedy, Bong’s electrifying opus is also the most uncompromising winner since Silence of the Lambs (1991).

So, should you see Parasite, now that the applause has subsided and Hollywood has gone back to its obsession with box office? Yes – and Parasite isn’t the only one. Here are the Oscar nominees and winners worth watching, along with two warnings about what to avoid.

Parasite – It’s daring story that focuses on a struggling, working-class family of four, with each carving out a new niche working for a rich family. But what horrors lurk in the basement? What happens next is mesmerizing, and the potent social messages that Bong layers elevates this film to a masterpiece. The material is so rich that Bong is now adapting it into a six-hour HBO extravaganza.

1917 – With a technical filmmaking flourish that propels the audience forward just like his British protagonists, Sam Mendes crafts a harrowing and heartbreaking story of perseverance during a WWI battle. Winner of three Oscars.

Joker – Winner of two Oscars, this is not-a-comic-book movie. Instead, with Best Actor Joaquin Phoenix as his quixotic anti-hero, Todd Phillips conjures a gut-wrenching, human study of a psychotic breakdown.

Marriage Story – The winner of one Oscar, Noah Baumbach’s intimate, autobiographical portrait of a broken marriage features powerful emotions and note-perfect performances from Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson.

Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood – Oops! In Quentin Tarantino’s first big misfire, this disjointed historical drama revisits the Charles Manson era and bizarrely rewrites history – for no reason. Two Oscars.

Little Women – Argh! Undermining her fine cast, Greta Gerwig trashes a classic story, robbing Louisa May Alcott’s novel of its heart, soul and compelling structure. One Oscar.

Bruce Kirkland‘s career spans more than four decades, working as a film critic for The Toronto Star, The Ottawa Journal and for 36 years at The Toronto Sun.

bruce.kirkland@hotmail.com


SHARE  

Featured Products


Tribute to celebrities we lost in 2019

A tribute to celebrities we lost in 2019 – they will be missed

Latest News


A tribute to celebrities we lost in 2019 – they will be missed

Annually, in a tradition bearing a slightly macabre twist, media recount the dead celebrities of the year. Here I am doing the same thing in Active Life. But there is merit in this exercise in the arts and entertainment arena. We pay tribute to those who may have affected our own lives through their work as actors, singers, filmmakers, producers, creators, writers, social activists and people.

Sometimes, their influence is even profound. I still cherish a 1978 interview I did with legendary actress Lillian Gish, who died in 1993, aged 99. She was my last living link with the silent film era. Gish championed the merits of silent films and the need for preservation, a passion that I share. I shed a tear at her passing.

Of course, the emotional reaction of a fan and/or film critic to a death is nothing like the reaction of family and friends – that is intensely personal. Our reaction is something more public and distant, even if we have met that person.

The roster of celebrities who passed in 2019 does have frisson for me on that public level. The following list is selective. I interviewed several of them during my career, but all created work that struck a chord in my soul.

Doris Day
Doris Day

Doris Day (died at 97) was an American big band singer, then an actress, and a movie and a TV star. I still enjoy the light-hearted, yet smart, romantic comedies she did with pal Rock Hudson. In particular, Pillow Talk (1959) stands out and she was Oscar-nominated.

Carol Channing
Carol Channing

Carol Channing (died at 97) was an American stage, movie and TV actress, a singer and a dancer. On Broadway, she was famous for her effervescent performance in Hello Dolly! (1964), winning best actress. What a doll!

Danny Aiello (died at 86) was an American actor who moved effortlessly between heavyweights such as The Godfather: Part II (1974), to comedies such as The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985), to social commentary such as Do the Right Thing (1989), for which he was Oscar-nominated. Always a sweet guy in interviews.

Tim Conway
Tim Conway

Tim Conway (died at 85) was an American actor, comedian and writer. Highlights of The Carol Burnett Show always include his wonky and spontaneous contributions. Fun guy in life.

Caroll Spinney with Oscar the Grouch
Caroll Spinney with Oscar the Grouch

Caroll Spinney (died at 85) was an American puppeteer who originated both Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch for Sesame Street in 1969, and played both until 2018. Spinney may not have been famous, but his creations became legends for generations of children.

Peter Mayhew (died at 74) was an English hospital orderly who found his calling as the Wookie Chewbacca in the Star Wars series. This towering giant was a true gentleman.

John Singleton (died at 51) was an American filmmaker. He astounded Hollywood with his dramatic, and unsettling, debut at 24 with Boyz n the Hood (1991), which propelled him forward as the first African-American, and the youngest person ever, to be Oscar-nominated as best director.

More names of significance include Albert Finney, Peter Fonda, Diahann Carroll, Robert Forster, Valerie Harper, Toni Morrison, Rip Torn, Luke Perry, Bruno Ganz, Rutger Hauer, Hal Prince, Carol Lynley, John Wesley and, for classic rock lovers, Cream drummer Ginger Baker.

Bruce Kirkland‘s career spans more than four decades, working as a film critic for The Toronto Star, The Ottawa Journal and for 36 years at The Toronto Sun. bruce.kirkland@hotmail.com

SHARE  

Featured Products


Take Two: Edward Norton

Edward Norton in Motherless Brooklyn

Latest News


Edward Norton in Motherless Brooklyn

It’s no coincidence that actor/director Edward Norton finally made his 1950s-style film noir, Motherless Brooklyn, when a real-life madman occupies the White House, and the United States is torn asunder with political, social and racial unrest. Yet, neither Norton nor his challenging drama, ever mentions Donald Trump or anything happening today. The film (which opens November 1st) is instead set nearly 70 years ago. It just happens to deal with the zeitgeist of current events in America.

Edward Norton plays a 1950s Brooklyn private eye who suffers from Tourette Syndrome.
Edward Norton plays a 1950s Brooklyn private eye who suffers from Tourette Syndrome.

“That is a fairly vital role for movies to play,” explains Norton. “Take Chinatown, which is a look back to the California of the ’30s, made in the ’70s. I don’t think it is coincidental at all that that movie comes at the end of the Vietnam War when the Watergate scandals were breaking open, made by a director (Roman Polanski) whose wife was murdered by a bunch of maniacs. It’s a very challenging film – this idea that the California of the American dream was built on crime, and that the people who committed these crimes raped their daughters, too.”

With other Canadian film journalists, I am sitting with Norton, and his co-star Gugu Mbatha-Raw, in an interview room at the Toronto International Film Festival, chatting about Norton’s first directorial effort in 19 years. This was a passion project for the highly regarded American actor, who is known for films as disparate as Rounders, American History X, Fight Club, Frida, 25th Hour, Moonrise Kingdom, The Bourne Legacy, The Grand Budapest Hotel and Birdman.

For Motherless Brooklyn, Norton worked on his adaptation of Jonathan Lethem’s novel for years, reorganizing the storyline and moving it from the 1990s to the 1950s. He fictionalized all the real-life characters from the ’50s. “The wisdom of doing literary versions of these things is that there is a lot of freedom to distill the essence of certain truths rather than have to explain everything,” says Norton. “There’s a reason that Citizen Kane wasn’t called Citizen Hearst,” he adds, referring to Orson Welles’ 1941 masterpiece. It was a fictionalized version of newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst’s abuse of power.

Motherless Brooklyn follows a detective named Lionel Essrog, played by Norton. Afflicted with Tourette Syndrome, Lionel works for a tough, taciturn, yet sympathetic, boss played by Bruce Willis. Left alone after a tragedy, Lionel tries to unravel a multiple-murder mystery buried inside a gigantic redevelopment scheme that has racial, social and criminal implications.

Norton consulted with Lethem. “I told him that I felt that there was an issue – that he had written a ’50s hard-boiled bunch of characters, but he set them in the modern world. In film, which is very literal, I didn’t want it to feel like the Blues Brothers. You know, guys in fedoras in the modern world. And he agreed with that 100 per cent.”

Playing a man with Tourette’s, while also directing the film, posed another challenge for Norton. It was an added complication. “There were many arguments against directing and acting in this,” says Norton. “One of the arguments for it was knowing that I could experiment with the condition a lot, but also be the one who sculpted the balance of it later [in the editing room].”

Risky? Yes, but worth it, says Norton. “There aren’t a lot of things that end up being good that aren’t creatively risky on some level.”

Bruce Kirkland‘s career spans more than four decades, working as a film critic for The Toronto Star, The Ottawa Journal and for 36 years at The Toronto Sun.

A life-long film buff, Bruce now shares his passion and insight with Active Life readers.

bruce.kirkland@hotmail.com


SHARE  

Featured Products


Out of Africa

Out of Africa – what they got right in the movie

Latest News


Out of Africa – what they got right in the movie

In July, I visited a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills. This is no ordinary farm. It was made famous by white colonist Karen Blixen, the Danish aristocrat and author who conjured her adventures in a lyrical book, Out of Africa.

In 1985, American filmmaker Sydney Pollack turned that 1937 autobiography, and other sources, into a romantic melodrama with Meryl Streep as Blixen. Out of Africa won hearts, generated box office revenue, promoted safari tourism in Kenya and scored seven Academy Awards.

Inexplicably, the Oscar haul included best picture. More about this perplexing, if staggeringly beautiful, epic in a moment.

Blixen’s actual farm house, Mbagathi, is now the Karen Blixen Museum, located in the affluent Nairobi suburb of Karen. The handsome dwelling is filled with some of Blixen’s belongings and more so by props donated by Universal Pictures.

Because Mbagathi was unavailable at the time, Pollack positioned cinematographer David Watkin at Blixen’s first Kenyan house, the nearby Mbogani. No matter, Hollywood always takes liberties. As I have often warned, no one should ever believe most of what they see in a film, even when it is “based on” or “inspired by” a true story. Getting “the essence” right is a better benchmark.

What I did not realize when writing about Out of Africa in 1985 was how much Pollack & company did get right. It took a 2019 African safari, and time spent in Kenya with Kenyans, to understand what really matters.

This personal reassessment astounds me. Not that film critics refuse to change their minds in the years following first impressions. But rarely does it occur for the reasons I have finally come to appreciate Out of Africa, both as a book and as a movie.

Okay, the movie is still melodramatic. The focus is still on Karen Blixen’s bad marriage to a philandering Swedish baron (played by Klaus Maria Brandauer) and her subsequent love affair with English big game hunter Denys Finch Hatton (played as a pseudo-American by Robert Redford).

Streep and Brandauer are excellent. But Redford’s boyish charm cannot salvage his boring performance. His fireside proclamations as the untamed Finch Hatton ring hollow. The love affair is a fizzle, not a sizzle.

Instead, the movie soars through its dramatization of racial and cultural complexity. At a time of British racism and colonial segregation, Blixen did things differently — and the transcendent Streep delivers this message with subtle power and dignity. We feel Blixen’s empathy for, and understanding of, the indigenous peoples, especially the Kikuyu who worked on her coffee plantation. I repeatedly experienced a modern echo of that myself in Kenya.

Leave the last word to the Kenyan guide who escorted my wife, Rachel Sa, and I around the Karen Blixen Museum. “We respect and revere her,” the young woman said of Blixen, who started a school, provided medical aid, and fought to give the Kikuyu land when she returned to Denmark in 1931. “Karen Blixen was not like the others.”

This is the gift Out of Africa still offers today.

Bruce Kirkland‘s career spans more than four decades, working as a film critic for The Toronto Star, The Ottawa Journal and for 36 years at The Toronto Sun.

A life-long film buff, Bruce now shares his passion and insight with Active Life readers.

bruce.kirkland@hotmail.com


SHARE  

Featured Products