Tag Archives: Kathy Bates

Sam Mendes’s Revolutionary Road

Sam Mendes’s Revolutionary Road is a film set in the 1950’s and decidedly so, but that is just happenstance because the story it tells could happen anywhere, in any time period. The setting, though elaborately, meticulously and unobtrusively staged, is just the gilding on this suburban tragedy of restlessness, shaky ideals and marriage at levels of disintegration that prove combustible.

Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet join forces again as Frank and April Wheeler, a seemingly harmonious white picket fence family who have achieved the American Dream. Cute little house in a sunny neighbourhood, two adorable children, he has a rat race office job while she plays homemaker. Idyllic, right? Anything but. These two are monumentally unhappy in ways that prove complex enough to haunt the viewer later on. She’s unwilling to hammer down that last corner of settled life and give up on further dreams, he simultaneously hates and depends on his worker bee employment like a security blanket. They make plans. Life, and the both of them get in the way. It’s kind of a vague premise to just read about in a review or synopsis and you have to watch the thing to get its rhythm and timbre, but what it has to say is important, heartbreaking and timeless.

Leo and Kate follow up their sweet, innocent tragedy of Titanic with a love story eons removed, a bitter tale of two people who’d love each other if they didn’t hate each other so much, and hate each other if they didn’t love each other so much. It’s a tricky, multilayered pair of performances to nail in tandem but they’re there in synergistic equilibrium and both give what might be their finest work. Suburbia is populated by supporting characters who revolve around them cautiously but never get fully sucked in to their destructive orbit. They’re played by the sterling likes of Kathy Bates, David Harbour, Kathryn Hahn, Dylan Baker, Jay O. Sanders, Max Baker and Michael Shannon in a fierce cameo as a sort of Greek Chorus type individual who comments on this couple’s plight with acidic abandon. Mendes chooses locations over a soundstage which is always tricky, but the level of authenticity you get once that is pulled off can’t be compared. 1050’s suburbia seems to come alive as we feel each breeze come in through an open window, see the tree lined street just beyond the borders of a real house they’re shooting in and watch the automobiles actually wind their way down a street. Thomas Newman provides a score that doesn’t cloy or manipulate but follows along dutifully while humming away in the wings to let Leo and Kate sing for themselves.

Not an easy film to watch, it’s essentially two people in a collective downward spiral observed in an intimate fly-on-the-wall fashion and that can become downright uncomfortable at its lowest points. But this is important stuff, a microcosm of two individuals that asks you to step outside what’s considered norm in society and examine exactly what exactly is expected of each man and woman and how that affects their actions throughout life. Brilliant film.

-Nate Hill

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Woody Allen’s Midnight In Paris

Do you ever find yourself feeling drawn to or nostalgic for another time period? Like somehow even though you’ve never been, you feel like you miss being there? Owen Wilson has a case of this in Woody Allen’s Midnight In Paris, a charming, brilliant piece that comes across as a ‘small’ film but has some big and deep ideas to discuss with you, the viewer. Wilson is Gil, a hapless wannabe screenwriter who looks up to the literary giants of yesteryear as he meanders around present day Paris with his fiancée (Rachel McAdams) and her family. He keeps going on about “Paris in the 1920’s in the rain” and how lovely it would be to see, hear and feel that for real. Her head is nowhere close to the clouds as his though, she subtly resents his whimsical daydreaming and yearns for suburban sprawl once they tie the knot. Now it’s impossible to really review this film without spoiling the enchanting central premise, so here goes: as he takes dreamy walks around Paris, he discovers that every night at precisely midnight he’s able to quite literally time travel back to the 1920’s. This puts him in close contact with aforementioned writers he considers titans and soon realizes are people just like him. I don’t know much about the figures portrayed here or whether the actors embody them truthfully, but they sure do a grand job of bringing their scenes alive. Kathy Bates is a robust Gertrude Stein, Corey Stoll dryly intones Ernest Hemingway, Adrien Brody is great very briefly as Salvador Dali, Tom Hiddleston as Fitzgerald and so it goes. This could have easily been a high concept, Owen Wilson In King Arthur’s Court style time travel film where the lessons learned are never all that striking or below the surface, but Allen wants to dig deeper. What is it about nostalgia that holds so much power over us? Would it be healthy or productive to live out those fantasies for real, and how would one come out of it? Gil finds a modicum of answer to these questions when he meets restless Adriana (Marion Cotillard, wonderful as always), but there’s a certain portion of theme here that lies in mystery, especially when her side off this phenomena comes into play, a thought provoking venture that I won’t go into here. The production team has wrought such a well lit, meticulously costumed Paris of the 20’s that you almost feel like they somehow tagged along with Gil each night and just filmed the thing there, it’s that good. The story rises up to meet it, and honestly as I type I can’t think of one single thing I disliked about this film. It’s engaging, never too simplistic nor too impenetrable, the actors are all clearly having the time of their lives (check out scene stealers Kurt Fuller and Mimi Kennedy as McAdams’s kvetchy parents) and there’s just this charm over the whole thing that’s irresistible.

-Nate Hill

Stephen King’s Dolores Claiborne

Stephen King’s Dolores Claiborne is one of those ones I held off on watching for years, for whatever reason. It’s an absolute corker though, a well written horror story of the most human kind, finding the darkest corners of the psyche and blowing them up full scale for a morbid effect that’s altogether far more unsettling than any ghosts or supernatural stuff. Ominous grey clouds roll in over picturesque Maine (actually Nova Scotia, the sneaky bastards), as former housewife and in-home nurse Dolores (Kathy Bates in one show stopper) is accused of a heinous crime: murdering her sick and elderly employee, a rich old goat (Judy Parfitt) who’s put her through decades of hard labour. Dolores’s daughter Selena (Jennifer Jason Leigh) returns home from a high profile journalist gig in the big Apple just in time for old wounds to be seared open. As a highly biased Detective (devilish Christopher Plummer) grills her on every aspect of the case, the narrative arcs back to Selena’s childhood years with Dolores and her monster of a father (David Strathairn, well out of his comfort zone and loving it), a tyrannical alcoholic whose ‘accidental’ death casts a heavy shadow on Bates, a pattern to be deciphered deliciously by both Leigh and the viewer. Things are not only not what they seem, but just about as far away from what we’re presented as possible, and when the final curtain lifts, it’s a wicked series of revelations to look back upon. King is undeniably the master of all things horror under the sun, but what he really excels at is how the lines blur between external demonization, the forces that exist out there in the night and the simple fact that humans are capable of despicable acts, whether by design or influence. It’s not a pretty tale, especially during the lurid, violent third act, but what a masterfully told tale it is, with expert director Taylor Hackford pulling at the reins, Danny Elfman undoing his mischievous aesthetic for a score that’s deep and dark, cinematographer Gabriel Beristain probing the inlets and harbours of eastern Canada with a surefire lens that creates atmosphere to spare, and every actor firing on all cylinders, including nice sideline work from Eric Bogosian, Ellen Muth, Bob Gunton, Wayne Robson and John C. Reilly. It’s interesting to observe the contrasts in visual style as well: For the most part, this is a moody, misty locale played dead straight, with no touches of the surreal or ‘out there’. Then in the third act there’s this crazy sequence during an eclipse (which bares uncanny similarities to this year’s gem of King adaptation, Gerald’s Game, I might add) that goes full on horror mode, dials down the realism and reminds us that this is after all a Stephen King story, and at some point things are liable to get weird. This one aims to please and prickle the senses of even the most stoic fan of deranged thrillers, and is a terrific funhouse to get lost in.

-Nate Hill

P.S I Love You


P.S. I Love You is pretty grounded, affecting stuff as far as romantic dramadies go, a sorrowful story that’s light on sap and earns your tears. It’s sad, to be sure, but that’s a necessary element to balance out any otherwise happy-go-lucky narrative, which is something many forget when making these types of films. Jarringly soon after we meet adorable and slightly dysfunctional couple Gerry and Holly (Gerard Butler & Hilary Swank), Gerry passes away, leaving her bereft and broken, but not necessarily alone. Knowing of his illness beforehand, he’s left a series of love notes that lead her on a scavenger hunt, each new note and following action geared towards easing her pain, saying goodbye and trying to help her start a new life. Although consoled by her two caring friends (Gina Gershon & Lisa Kudrow) as well as her mother (Kathy Bates) this is Holly’s solo journey at heart, a meditation sent from the afterlife by the world’s most thoughtful husband, unconventional in his methods yet intuitive to his last breath. Losing a loved one, especially your other half, is a kind of pain one could never fathom unless, heavens forbid, we find ourselves in that situation one day. Holly and Gerry didn’t always work well, as we see in a few of the haughty flashbacks, but their love for each other was real, and the subsequent pain on her part is palpable in Swank’s performance, which must be no easy task. A trip to Ireland, an encounter with a handsome stranger there (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), flirting with a kindly potential suitor (Harry Connick Jr.), she circles many endeavours in her time after his passing, all part of a grieving process and a desire on deceased Jerry’s part that she live her life, remember him yet not fall into an abyss of chronic grief and let it stall her, which happens to some. It’s a sweet and good-natured way to tell a very grave, emotionally corrosive story, but like I said before, it’s never manipulative or deliberately mushy, it lets the story push your buttons naturally, until the floodgates on your tear ducts are opened by observing the story and characters, not connived by soap opera histrionics or tacky melodrama. A beautiful little film that makes you deeply sad, but also puts in an effort to cheer you up along the way, just like Gerry does for his Holly. 

-Nate Hill

Bad Santa 2: A Review by Nate Hill

  

The holiday season’s best role model for children and adults alike makes a triumphantly sleazy comeback in Bad Santa 2, and I can honestly say this is one of those rare anomalous occurrences where the sequel outdoes its predecessor in almost every way. Where the first film was scummy, this one is scummier, the profanity nearly tripled and all manner of disgusting debauchery and deplorable behaviour dialled way past what we’re used to. Now a lot of folks will claim overkill, but honestly what’s the point in making a film like this if you don’t go for broke and puke up every last little cuss word and anal joke that comes to mind, particularly when it’s the sequel we’re talking about here. Billy Bob Thornton reprises what feels like his signature role, a piss poor excuse for a human named Willie Stoke, lowlife alcoholic dirtbag safecracker who masquerades as a department store Santa to rob malls blind, along with his flippant midget partner Marcus (ebony Oompa Loompa Tony Cox). This year they’ve taken a pickaxe to rock bottom and sunk even lower, aiming for a children’s charity reputed to rake in the Yuletide dough. Willie gets a surprise visit from his Ma though, an equally bitter, reprehensible diesel dyke piece of work played by Kathy Bates. You gotta hand it to the Bates-ter; this could have easily been a glorified cameo amped up just for trailers, but no, she goes all in and the extra mile to create a truly rotten bitch who almost…almost makes Willie the slightest bit sympathetic. This is one dirty, dirty film, one that milks it’s R rating like a two dollar hooker’s teat, so much so that it garnered the coveted 18a rating here in Canadian theatres, a medal not given out too lightly these days by our alarmingly lenient government. Nothing is sacred here, and I wouldn’t have it any other way in a film called Bad Santa. Christina Hendricks shits all over her classy image as the head of the charity, a slut in prudes clothing who just can’t help but play it dirty with Willie. The aptly named Thurman Murman (Vancouver’s own Brett Kelly) also makes a return, his stairs even farther away from the attic as he gets older. Replace holiday cheer with delightfully deviant black comedy, and loads of it, and you get a nasty, hedonistic little stocking stuffer like this. Just tread lightly if you can’t handle this type of humour, because it will tear you a new one.

Fried Green Tomatoes: A Review by Nate Hill 

Fried Green Tomatoes is one of those films that presents two narratives, simultaneously woven together and unbound by the laws of past and present. A character from the present tells tales of the past, and the film jumps ever back and forth between the two, until a connection emerges. You’ve seen it in stuff like The Notebook, where it works beautifully, and both stories support each other. That’s the issue with this film: One of the narratives is lovely and works quite well. The other? Mmm…not so much. Kathy Bates plays a hospice worker in a retirement home who is charmed by stories of life, freedom, injustice and romance from long ago, all told with wit and passion by an excellent Jessica Tandy. She tells of life growing up during the early 1900’s in the American southwest, of free spirited tomboy Idgie (a fierce and emotional Mary Stuart Masterson), the girl she loves (Mary Louise Parker, radiant) and the whirlwind of trouble and conflict going on around them. Idgie lost her brother and best friend (a short lived and very young looking Chris O ‘Donnell) to a horrible accident, and sort of has a lost pup complex, holding on to Parker for dear life and trying her best to extricate her from an abusive relationship with her monster of a husband  (Nick Searcy is evil incarnate). It’s whimsical, touching and flavored with just the right touches of sadness and danger. Now, the story with Bates in the present just feels aloof and silly. The scenes with her and Tandy fare better than glimpses of her home life and attempts to empower and change her for the better. Don’t get me wrong, I love that idea, the notion of inspiration  transcending time and the ability to help others simply with the spoken word and the wisdom of the past, but it just didn’t work in this case. As for the scenes in the past, I fell hard for them. Masterson is a terrific actress who usually gets saddled with light, fluffy roles, but here gets a chance to let some raw emotion out. Parker is more reigned in but every bit as soulful, as the girl in a situation no one should have to endure, her soul practically screaming out through those beautiful brown eyes. I suppose you could say that it’s half of a great film, that couldn’t quite pull off it’s own narrative flow.