Whistler Film Festival: ‘The Legend of Barney Thomson’

It’s all grotesque fun in Robert Carlyle’s directorial debut, which features a long overdue collaboration with Emma Thompson.

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The Case of the Sympathetic Barber

About thirty minutes before his Red Carpet appearance, Robert Carlyle gave his frank opinion about the titular character from The Legend of Barney Thomson. “He’s not a very nice person, this Barney,” the Once Upon a Time star admitted at the Whistler Film Festival, where his directorial debut was welcomed for its North American premiere. “It’s one of the most difficult things about the script: How do I play this guy and make him somehow sympathetic? Because he’s a tit, he really is!”

Robert Carlyle
Robert Carlyle in his directorial debut, ‘The Legend of Barney Thomson.’ Photo courtesy of the Whistler Film Festival.

It helps immensely that Carlyle dwarfs Barney’s unpleasant “outbursts” towards customers by bringing on the full force of an outrageous personality like Cemolina. Emma Thompson, a two-time Academy-Award-winning actress, is both delightful and horrifying as Barney’s mother. Only two years older than Carlyle, Thompson benefited from the expertise of Mark Coulier (Spectre, Iron Lady) for the prosthetic make-up design needed to transform her into the feisty Scottish woman. It’s Emma Thompson as you’ve never seen her.

Despite being in her seventies, Cemolina stays active with her betting at the dog races, her lively Bingo nights, and old lady dance parties. But by no means would we ever expect her to garner the accolade of “Mother of the Year” for the scathing verbal abuse she unleashes on Barney, the hapless and lonely barber. “I never saw the f***ing point of you,” she tells her long-suffering son. Ouch.

A View from the Barber’s Chair Continue reading “Whistler Film Festival: ‘The Legend of Barney Thomson’”

Whistler Film Festival: ‘Born to Be Blue’

Born to be Blue is a passion project that was years in the making for actor Ethan Hawke and director-writer Robert Budreau. Hawke plays the role of jazz trumpeter and crooner Chet Baker, who seems to be on the cusp of a comeback when the film opens in the mid-1960s. After his release from an Italian prison, there’s a black and white sequence that pulls the viewer back 1950s. The big moment is an evening in New York at the Birdland jazz club, where legend Miles Davis (Kedar Brown) is in attendance.

Ethan Hawke and Carmen Ejogo
Ethan Hawke and Carmen Ejogo in ‘Born to Be Blue.’ Photo courtesy of the Whistler Film Festival.

Co-star Callum Keith Rennie emerged for a Q&A after the screening at the Whistler Film Festival earlier this month. He called attention to the tensions that he felt Budreau and Hawke wanted to capture. “It was the new white guy on a scene that was predominately understood to be Black. It was ‘the new kid in town.’ I think there was a bit of a distance between the groups coming together,” Rennie explained to the crowd at the Village 8 Cinema.

Continue reading “Whistler Film Festival: ‘Born to Be Blue’”

Virginia Film Festival: ‘Last Days in the Desert’

‘Last Days in the Desert’ is a unique exploration of Jesus’s human side in way that is contemplative, creative, and respectful.

Ewan McGregor in 'Last Days in the Desert'
Ewan McGregor in ‘Last Days in the Desert.’ Photo Courtesy of the Virginia Film Festival

It seems difficult to create a fresh perspective on Jesus, given all of the films and television specials that have been released over the years. However, director and writer Rodrigo García was able to do just that in his latest film, Last Days in the Desert. He focuses on a few days at the very end of the forty-day period that Jesus (Ewan McGregor) spent in the desert, fasting and praying before starting his active ministry.

García and producer Julie Lynn were both interviewed recently at the Virginia Film Festival by Harry Chotiner, a professor at New York University. The director, appearing on a large screen through video chat, summed up his film as a story about men “finding destiny under powerful fathers.”

One startling aspect of the film is a significant casting decision: Ewan McGregor plays both Jesus and Lucifer. “Lucifer uses human ways to destabilize Jesus,” García said. “He’s the least politically correct character.” Save for a couple additions of jewelry and his evil smirks, Lucifer looks the same as Jesus. His abilities in shape-shifting and mimicry are both entertaining and creepy at once.

Continue reading “Virginia Film Festival: ‘Last Days in the Desert’”

Middleburg Film Festival Review: ‘Hitchcock/Truffaut’

‘Hitchcock/Truffaut’ is a documentary that will entertain everyone, not just film buffs, from start to finish.

'Hitchcock/Truffaut' Screenshot
Photo by Philippe Halsman. Courtesy of Cohen Media Group and the Middleburg Film Festival

Set for release next month, Hitchcock/Truffaut is a delightful, 80-minute documentary directed by Kent Jones. It draws on insights from celebrated filmmakers looking back at a series of meetings that occurred between Alfred Hitchcock and François Truffaut in 1962. Truffaut, a founder of New Wave cinema, requested the interview so that he might “free Hitchcock from his reputation as a light entertainer.” In 1966, he published those conversations in a book.

The running commentary by Martin Scorsese, Wes Anderson, Richard Linklater, and others is illuminating about their reverence for these two great cinematic giants. However, the center stage remains with Hitchcock and Truffaut in the old photographs and their film footage. The book itself, as one sees in the close-up shots, includes frame-by-frame analysis from many of Hitchcock’s films. But their dialogue has its full impact now by being layered directly over the clips, the way you might expect a film lecture to go. Continue reading “Middleburg Film Festival Review: ‘Hitchcock/Truffaut’”

Review: ‘Blunt Talk’ – “I Seem to Be Running Out of Dreams for Myself”

Starz Network released the first two episodes of Blunt Talk ahead of the show’s premiere date of Saturday, August 22nd. The comedy stars Patrick Stewart as Walter Blunt, a hapless and utterly self-centered host of a right-wing news program. Critics may laud this show as new ground for Stewart, but it’s by no means his debut into raunchy and borderline over-the-top scenarios.

Walter Blunt (Patrick Stewart) and his Therapist (Richard Lewis)
Dr. Weiss (Richard Lewis) Treats Walter Blunt (Patrick Stewart)

At the helm of Blunt Talk are creator/director Jonathan Ames and executive producer Seth MacFarlane. MacFarlane enlisted Stewart on several occasions for Family Guy, Ted, and Ted 2, showcasing the veteran actor’s flair for perfect comedic delivery. Blunt Talk thus is more than just an extension of these moments, resulting in smart and playful episodes littered with references to Stewart’s prolific career. Be on the lookout for gems such as Brent Spiner’s brief appearance at the jazz bar as Phil the pianist.

The jazzy vibes in the background, the décor, and even Walter’s formal British speech do much to present the man as an anachronism during the opening scene of “I Seem to Be Running Out of Dreams for Myself.” Following celebrity stereotypes, Walter indulges in alcohol and he has a penchant for marijuana laced chocolate. His valet Harry (Adrian Scarborough) cautions him to take such “time release vitamins” only in moderation. Continue reading “Review: ‘Blunt Talk’ – “I Seem to Be Running Out of Dreams for Myself””

TV Review: Madness Reigns on ‘Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell’ in “The Black Tower”

Jonathan Strange finally meets the Gentleman.

Marc Warren and Bertie Carvel
The Gentleman (Marc Warren) watches Jonathan Strange (Bertie Carvel) at work. Photo: JSMN Ltd, Matt Squire / BBC America.

Following “The Black Tower,” there’s only one more episode of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, a BBC series that depicts a Napoleonic Europe beset by magic. The penultimate installment is a jarring descent into madness. Norrell (Eddie Marsan), the older magician, is frustrated that he can’t locate Strange (Bertie Carvel), his former apprentice. He reluctantly pulls Drawlight (Vincent Franklin) out of jail to handle the search.

Strange is hiding in Venice, trying to “catch” madness, a mental state that enables one to see fairies. He meets the lovely Flora (Lucinda Dryzek), from whom he learns about an old lady that lives with cats and eats dead rodents. Yes, she’s mad. I would have preferred a less stomach-turning method for demonstrating his obsession with getting Arabella (Charlotte Riley) back. Strange succeeds and meets the Gentleman, a fairy king (Marc Warren) with a penchant for deals. His happiness fades upon realizing that Belle is alive, turning quickly to rage when he discovers the Gentleman’s involvement with Lady Pole’s (Alice Englert) resurrection. Continue reading “TV Review: Madness Reigns on ‘Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell’ in “The Black Tower””

Review: ‘Minions’ Top the Box Office Despite Flaws

“Minions” is sure to break records, but it’s not the best work from the “Despicable Me” team.

“Minions” successfully raked in $115 million in its opening weekend domestically, taking the number one spot in the box office. Combined with other grosses, the prequel to the “Despicable Me” films has now made a whopping $395.7 million worldwide and will continue to climb. We’ve been clamoring for a minions-centered movie for a while, so how does it measure up? Continue reading “Review: ‘Minions’ Top the Box Office Despite Flaws”