Movie characters I want to catch up with 20 years later

Reality Bites 2

This Friday, T2 Trainspotting hits theatres in North America, bringing Renton, Spud, Sick Boy, and the rest of the crew back together. They’re a little bit older and a whole lot craggier, but they’re still alive, so I guess that’s a start.

To be honest, my reaction when I first heard about a Trainspotting sequel was to recoil. I like the original film quite a bit, which means I hold it high enough esteem that I don’t want to see it tarnished, but I’m also not such a huge fan of it that I’m desperate to jump back into that world.

However, I trust Danny Boyle, and the spirited trailers for T2 have instilled a little more hope in me. And then I started thinking about other films that could benefit from (or at least survive) similar treatment. And I was surprised by how few came to mind. A lot of movies have endings that wouldn’t work with a sequel, some already provide their own epilogue to explain what happens, and some have characters that I just don’t care about enough to revisit down the line.

But some do paint a rich world that I’d be eager to jump back into. So here are a handful of movie characters who deserve a thoughtful follow-up showing what would be in store for them 20 years later, a la T2.

(Note: No major plot spoilers ahead But, when talking about a potential movie sequel, I suppose some mild contextual spoilers are inevitable.)

Boyhood

Mason (Ellar Coltrane) – Boyhood

Is this an obvious pick? Maybe. Would it be a terrible idea to call Boyhood’s hypothetical sequel Manhood? Probably. But considering we’ve already spent 12 years following Mason’s life, what’s another 20?

In all seriousness, though, even though trying to expand on the perfection that is Boyhood might sound like a terrible idea, if any director could pull it off, it’s Richard Linklater. He somehow turned Before Sunrise (what should have been a charming little standalone about a one-night stand, essentially) into a sprawling 18+ year franchise about the perils, joy, and lived-in tragedy of interpersonal relationships. Similarly, we saw Ellar Coltrane literally grow up in front of our eyes, so there would be something inherently satisfying continuing to follow Mason through post-college life.

So bring on the Boyhood Cinematic Universe. Plus, given his commitment to Linklater’s ridiculously long-winded timelines, we know Ethan Hawke would probably be on board.

Ida

Ida (Agata Trzebuchowska) – Ida

Oddly, Pawel Pawlikowski’s Ida was one of the first films that came to my mind for this list. And while this understated black-and-white Polish drama might not seem like a film that screams “sequel”, its central character is certainly fascinating enough to warrant further consideration.

As we see her, Ida’s life is in flux. She’s on the cusp of taking her vows to become a nun when she uncovers a family secret that shakes her self-assurance. By the end of the film, it feels like Ida’s only just starting to find the path she should truly be on. She makes some weighty choices, and I’d love to find out where they end up taking her. As well, since so much of the film revolves around personal and cultural history, it would be fascinating to see the echoes of Ida’s past reverberating in the future, and the various ways her own lived-in and inherited experiences mingle together into her adulthood.

The Panic in Needle Park

Bobby and Helen (Al Pacino and Kitty Winn) – The Panic in Needle Park

Movies that focus on a character’s addiction are kind of built to leave us wanting a sequel. Even if a character seems to be on the path to recovery by the end, there’s still that lingering question of whether they’ll be able to stay on the wagon. I think this is why the premise of a Trainspotting sequel works, and it would also apply to 1971’s The Panic in Needle Park.

Granted, we’re now well past the 20-year anniversary mark, but in a hypothetical world where we could have gotten an early-‘90s follow-up to The Panic in Needle Park, it would have been fascinating. Even the time period would have worked, with the potential of contrasting gritty 1970s New York City with the “heroin chic” trend of the ’90s.

Not to mention the fact that Bobby and Helen are just fascinating characters. The ending of the original is open-ended enough to leave us unsure of their paths, and while I unfortunately suspect that things wouldn’t go so well for them in the intervening 20 years, I’d be highly curious to see where they end up.

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Toni (Royalty Hightower) – The Fits

Anna Rose Holmer’s The Fits finds its young protagonist Toni very much in a state of transition. The film takes an ephemeral look at the onset of womanhood, represented by mysterious and rather frightening literal “fits” that beset pubescent girls.

Were we to jump forward a couple decades and find Toni in her early 30’s, the changes and growth she’d be experiencing definitely wouldn’t be as drastic and visceral as those that we see in The Fits. However, I think Holmer crafts such a weirdly honest look at life (albeit through strange magical realism elements) that I just want to see how her worldview would translate to other stages of life.

Plus, The Fits pits Toni’s tomboyish tendencies in direct opposition with budding femininity and I’m doing to know how that internal battle plays out.

 Ethan Hawke And Winona Ryder In 'Reality Bites'

Lelaina, Troy, and Michael (Winona Ryder, Ethan Hawke, and Ben Stiller) – Reality Bites

If there’s one movie that’s more quintessentially ‘90s than Trainspotting, it’s probably Reality Bites. And while I do love it, but I also think there would be something oddly satisfying about watching its characters stumble to navigate a 2010s world. In true Gen X fashion, they were already angsty and disenfranchised in Reality Bites, so just think of how wholly perturbed they’d be by millennials.

Some of the issues tackled in Reality Bites were very ‘90s-specific while others were timeless, so there’d still be plenty of angst to mine. I can’t imagine that life ended up the way the film’s self-assured young characters imagined for themselves, but the, ahem, reality of it all might end up being far more interesting.

The Wolfpack

The Wolfpack – The Wolfpack

Not actually “characters” at all, the titular Wolfpack from Crystal Moselle’s documentary of the same name refers to the Angulo brothers, a closenit sextet. Raised in an extremely sheltered New York City apartment (so much so that they’d only be permitted to leave the house a couple of times a year), the brothers made their own fun by recreating and film scenes from their favourite movies. The Wolfpack examines the various ways the brothers begin to break out from their sheltered existence (or, in some cases, choose not to do so) as they reached the cusp of adulthood.

If Moselle and the Angulos decided to turn The Wolfpack into something reminiscent of the 7 Up series and caught up with them a couple decades down the line, we’d have the potential to see how the young men adjusted to the “real world” after their oppressive upbringing. Plus, who know which fantastic new movies would come out for them to reenact in the intervening 20 years?

 25th Hour

Monty Brogan (Edward Norton) – 25th Hour

Spike Lee’s 25th Hour has so much complexity and character development packed into a movie with a mere single-day span. Following Monty through the final 24 hours before he begins a seven-year prison sentence, not only is Norton’s Monty a compelling protagonist, but he’s surrounded by a fantastic supporting cast that includes Barry Pepper, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Rosario Dawson, Brian Cox, and Anna Paquin.

Any excuse to spend more time with interesting characters is always a good one. But even apart from that, 25th Hour ends on a note that is somehow both ambiguous and finite, leaving the viewer wanting to know what becomes of Monty. Considering how much he goes through in a single day, I’m almost afraid to think about what another 20 years would do to him. But I’m sure Lee’s vision of it would be enthralling.

Review: Brimstone

Brimstone

Somewhere within Martin Koolhoven’s Brimstone is a film with a fiercely feminist slant. Set in front of a fairly typical 19th century western backdrop, the film follows Liz (Dakota Fanning), a young mother being terrorized by a sinister preacher (Guy Pearce) who has his sights set on her. Throughout its ample 148-minute runtime, Brimstone shows the injustice and abuse that women face, as well as the ways they seek revenge. But while that may sound interesting or even empowering in theory, where Brimstone flies woefully off the rails is in the leering, exploitative way it presents its presumably well-intentioned message.

This isn’t to say that a film can’t be shocking while still making its points. And indeed, in one way I respect Koolhoven’s commitment to brutality; his hand is unflinching and his vision clear. The problem, though, comes from the fact that his vision happens to be so unrelentingly nasty that Brimstone becomes a complete slog by the time it wheezes to the end of its four-chapter structure. The shock value wears off early on, leaving the viewer with a sort of grimness set at the same pitch throughout, rarely evolving after the film’s first half hour or so.

Some of the brutality comes with a side helping of Koolhoven’s pitch-black sense of humour, and it’s easy to see that a lot of Brimstone’s most debauched moments are meant to be very darkly satirical. However, it seems that satire serves no real purpose other than to slightly lessen the blow of the twisted things Koolhoven is presenting on screen. Some viewers will be offended by the crimes that are fairly graphically inflicted on women, children, and animals throughout the film. Others, like myself, will find them trying so hard to be “edgy” that they lose all impact.

Koolhoven is clearly going for an in-your-face brashness (as evidenced even by the film’s title card, which declares it “Koolhoven’s Brimstone”) and his style is not without its merits. Resting in some ethereal realm between arthouse and schlock, there’s an elegant griminess to Brimstone that there just might be a gap in the market for. Despite largely really disliking this film, I still wouldn’t be opposed to checking out what Koolhoven makes next.

Dakota Fanning makes the most of things, delivering a powerful, measured lead performance despite the lack of character development included in the script. As the film settles in and you start calculating exactly how many minutes are left in the runtime, she and the film’s moody, burnished cinematography become two bright spots amid the mire. It would be unfair to expect that to be enough to carry the whole bloated beast, but it does kind of justify the film’s existence, and that’s not nothing.

It’s unclear if the world really needed the creation of a “Dutch psychosexual western” film subgenre, but it’s probably safe to say that Koolhoven has now cornered the market. Unfortunately, Brimstone just never follows through on its sweeping vision. Koolhoven clearly has the visual flair and attitude to pull it off, but it’s yet to be seen if he has it in him to find the restraint and narrative thrust necessary to really get a bizarre film like Brimstone off the ground. It seems unlikely he’ll stop trying, though.

Review: Logan

Logan

We all know that the concept of the “gritty reboot” is a little played out. (As soon as the internet starts meme-ing something, it’s never a good sign.) However, if ever there was a cinematic character who warranted some rougher and tougher reconsideration, it’s probably Wolverine. Enter: Logan.

Of course, Logan isn’t actually a reboot, considering Hugh Jackman has now been donning his Wolverine scowl for well over a decade and Logan marks director James Mangold’s second time tackling the character. But while some audience members may be growing fatigued by the Wolverine tale and have lost count of how many different X-Men-related films we’ve now seen him in, it’s also difficult to claim that Logan doesn’t feel like something quite different within the franchise. And when you’re bringing Wolverine-level familiarity to the already well-worn superhero genre, the fact that Logan can actually be described as “fresh” feels like a small miracle in and of itself.

Part of this does have to do with the film’s much-discussed R-rating, which Mangold and co. take full advantage of when it comes to the violence. However, while it’s fun to hear Wolverine drop a few well-placed f-bombs and the brutal fight scenes are stunningly directed, I’d argue that the film doesn’t really need its R. The film is otherwise rather understated and actually features a lot of downtime, so in one sense I can understand why Mangold wanted to throw in a few spirited beheadings to keep restless audience members alert, but the result is that it ends up feeling a bit inconsistent in tone.

Rather, the thing that truly sets Logan apart is its focus on character. Logan and Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) get fully-formed arcs, and Mangold and his fellow screenwriters leave room to show the toll that time has taken on their characters. It’s a melancholy, often pessimistic meditation on morality, tackling themes of regret and vulnerability. Most superhero movies don’t even try to wade into anything with a bit of emotional heft, or when they do, it just feels woefully cursory. (Here’s looking at you, Captain America: Civil War.) By contrast, Logan revels both in its meditative tendencies, and the considerable emotional range of its pair of lead actors, who have never been better within the X-Men franchise.

However, even Jackman and Stewart can’t completely smooth over the film’s flaws, which aren’t massive but do prevent the film from truly transcending superhero tropes. To start with, Mangold can’t seem to resist throwing in a hammy, undeveloped villain who this time around comes in the form of Boyd Holbrook’s Pierce. (If you want to see Holbrook do some truly fantastic work in a gritty, small-town America cinematic setting, check out 2015’s underrated indie Little Accidents. But he’s sadly all scenery chewing and “quirk” here, ultimately amounting to a character of no substance.) And while there’s something to be said for a deliberate pace, this movie does feel overly long at 135 minutes; by the time we reach the end it feels fairly inevitable (though still affecting), and I think the film would be all the stronger if we could have gotten there 20 minutes sooner.

Ultimately, it’s difficult not to get sucked in by the surprising pathos of Logan in spite of its flaws, and while it may not be entirely revolutionary, it is a refreshing detour. Hopefully it’s a sign of the direction more franchises will start to take.

Review: O.J.: Made in America

o-j-made-in-america

Prior to watching O.J.: Made in America, I believed I had a general understanding of the O.J. Simpson murder trial. I was a very young child when it all played out, so I hadn’t experienced it as it was happening, but I’d since gleaned the necessary information through pop culture and references that came up in conversation. Or so I thought.

As I quickly found out after starting Ezra Edelman’s nearly 8-hour documentary, I knew only the very faintest outline of the major events surrounding the case. And every time I’d heard the trial and verdict mentioned, it was usually cloaked in the assumption that O.J. was guilty. Now, after completing O.J.: Made in America, I do still believe that he committed the murder. However, the path that I took to come to that conclusion is now both far better-informed and a hell of a lot murkier.

So that’s where I was at going in to O.J. Admittedly, I think my ignorance on the subject made the viewing experience more “exciting”. For someone who knows the ins and outs of the case or who followed the trial through its excruciatingly long duration, there obviously aren’t going to be as many surprises. Yet, I found that the most interesting part of O.J. was not following every twist and turn in the narrative (and, indeed, I’m sure everyone watching at the very least knows the ultimate outcome of the story) but in discovering the context that surrounded it all and contributed to the result.

Edelman does a fantastic job of providing background both in regards to O.J.’s life and to the social climate in Los Angeles at the time. The murder isn’t even addressed until a full three hours into the movie, and Edelman spends the time leading up to that essentially setting the scene for how and why things happened like they did He delves into the extreme racial tension plaguing L.A., which was still fresh off the heels of Rodney King and questions of ongoing police brutality. And while much of this might not be new information to the viewer, it is illuminating to see it all laid out at once, and it makes the ultimate trajectory of the trial a lot more comprehensible.

The film’s rich cast of interview subjects also greatly enhance the story, providing perspective from just about every angle imaginable. Yes, there are a few key players missing – most notably, Simpson himself – but Edelman more than makes up for that by speaking at length to the people who knew the ultimately unknowable O.J. the best; childhood friends, teammates, business associates, reporters, prosecutors, defense lawyers, jurors, and family members of Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman all weigh in. Their responses to O.J. are as diverse as the public’s, ultimately offering no easy answers but making the story all the more fascinating and complex. And Edelman clearly has a knack for interviews, highlighting the more colourful side of more than a few of his subjects and drawing out a few tidbits in regards to O.J. that are truly damning, if true. (Which, as the film silently suggests throughout, sometimes may not actually be the case.)

Among the film’s many other rich themes, that question of truth and obfuscation permeates the narrative at every turn. In seamlessly pieced-together archival footage, we see many different sides of O.J., some of them downright charming. The whole first segment of the film (if you choose to watch it in its more easily digestible five-part format) presents O.J.’s college days and his early pro football career, and it’s easy to get swept up in that story and almost completely forget what is to come.

To that end, Edelman brings such a sense of empathy to the film that none of the subjects are portrayed as truly unlikeable or unsympathetic, even as some of them seem to uncontrollably offer up questionable views or speak of their involvement in the more unsavoury aspects of O.J.’s past. For example, O.J.’s longtime agent, Mike Gilbert (one of the film’s most fascinating and candid subjects), provides information that paints himself in questionable light as much as it does O.J. At one point, somewhat bafflingly, Gilbert admits that he always thought O.J. was guilty yet remained close with him. He seems to suggest that he would have been fine with the idea of O.J. committing second-degree murder, but his realization that it may have been premeditated was apparently the thing that was a bridge too far. It’s revelations like this – all tied into people’s murky motivations, self-interest, and damage – that complicate the story, even if you’re operating under the assumption that O.J. is indeed guilty.

Edelman knows how to craft a documentary that rises far above standard true crime fare, weaving in endless nuance to subject matter that you’d expect to be too well-worn to offer much interest. 467 minutes may sound long, but rather than feeling drawn-out, O.J.: Made in America feels like the perfect length for Edelman’s expansive scope. As the title suggests, Simpson was indeed the product of that fabled “American dream”, and without ever feeling heavy-handed, Edelman understatedly crafts perhaps a truly perfect argument to why that promised “dream” may ultimately be false.

My 10 Favourite Films of 2016

It’s that time of year again. And maybe for the first time ever, I’ve managed to get my list out before January 1st (albeit just barely). There are some films I really wanted to catch up with before making a top 10 (Manchester by the Sea, Certain Women, Jackie, 20th Century Women), but I’m willing to “settle” for the 10 fantastic films I’ve already seen. So let’s get on with it.

Very honourable mentions go to Little Men, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, The Invitation, Dheepan, The Bad Kids, and Green Room.

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10. Hell or High Water

Director David Mackenzie took the grit and depiction of uneasy male family ties from his last picture, 2014’s Starred Up, and translated it into something that has had surprising resonance with American audiences with Hell or High Water. A lot of reviewers have honed in on the film’s geographic and economic perspective and dubbed it as something of “a film for Trump’s America” and while I see that argument, I think it sells the film short, or at least distorts some of the points that McKenzie is making. But even setting politics and social messages aside, Hell or High Water feels undeniably timely and reworks tropes of the western genre into something that feels fresh, which is no easy feat. Ben Foster and Chris Pine smolder on screen in just the right ways, and when the film kicks its plot into high gear, it’s both wildly exciting and an example of filmmaking at its finest.

the-edge-of-seventeen

9. The Edge of Seventeen

John Hughes comparisons have run rampant with this debut feature from writer-director Kelly Fremon Craig, and while I usually like to play the contrarian, I have to agree that The Edge of Seventeen is like a more modern and – dare I say it – more intelligent version of an ‘80s Molly Ringwald flick. The Edge of Seventeen perfectly captures the confusing, exhilarating, gross, and frustrating feelings that come along with being a teenage girl. Protagonist Nadine (played by a truly fantastic Hailee Steinfeld) is frequently unlikeable, but also thoroughly relatable. Her behaviour may not be excusable, but it is understandable, and Craig’s film explores how we can better relate to the people around us at any age. It’s heartfelt but never treacly, and funny but certainly never disposable.

paterson

8. Paterson

Paterson is the sort of strange, plotless movie that seems like it would embody all the worst stereotypes of about indie film. But with Jim Jarmusch directing and Adam Driver starring this film that is seemingly about nothing becomes something quite moving and almost haunting, in a way. Driver plays the titular Paterson, a bus driver in a small New Jersey town also called Paterson. (This is what I mean when I say the film should be thoroughly annoying.) Paterson explores this man’s simple life, his poetic aspirations, and his relationships, all amounting to a quiet yet memorable entry from Jarmusch. I hadn’t been sold on Driver’s abilities on the big screen, but he more than proves himself here, giving a complicated and layered portrayal to a character who could have been quite flat in the hands of a less sensitive performer.

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7. 10 Cloverfield Lane

I can’t overstate how thrilled I was to encounter a big franchise film that is essentially a three-person chamber play. The fact that it made over $100 million at the box office is just icing on the cake, and I can only hope that it’ll encourage more blockbusters like this. And financial successes aside, I found 10 Cloverfield Lane completely gripping. First-time director Dan Trachtenberg makes the most of the film’s claustrophobic setting and his fantastic trio of actors, perfectly crafting tension at every turn. Some people had a problem with the film’s third act, and while I don’t necessarily think the film NEEDED to go the direction it did, I understand WHY it did, and I found that part of the story compelling, too. More exciting leading roles for Mary Elizabeth Winstead, please.

6. The Wait

I’m still sad that The Wait has gone largely unnoticed this year, lovely and quietly complicated as it is. Co-leads Juliette Binoche and Lou de Laage are completely enchanting to watch together on screen, and the careful direction from director Pietro Messina only adds more glorious tension to this simmering film. So much goes unspoken in The Wait, but it’s all the more powerful because of it.

a-bigger-splash

5. A Bigger Splash

I think about A Bigger Splash possibly more than any other film I saw this year, and it continues to only goes up in my estimation on reflection. It’s not perfect and it’s definitely wacky as hell, but there’s something about it that really worked for me. Maybe it’s just Ralph Fiennes’ dance moves. Who knows. In any case, I think this is a film that’s sly in its social commentary, surprisingly moving, and a fantastic acting showcase for all four leads involved. Check it out if you haven’t already.

arrival

4. Arrival

I don’t think Arrival is as smart as a lot of people say it is. It utilizes some clunky narrative devices, and I wish some of its plot points were less “movie trope-y” than they are. I don’t even think it perfectly hits all the emotional notes it goes for. But here’s the thing: I don’t think I saw a more beautiful film this year. Dennis Villeneuve’s sci-fi vision feels like the sort of movie I’ve always wanted to see. (Blade Runner 2049, please come faster.) It does feel a little bit stuck in between a blockbuster and Villeneuve’s more arty instincts. But I’m glad that a movie like this is getting shown in multiplexes and being seen by a wide audience. Thanks to Amy Adams’ brilliantly soulful performance, it has Villeneuve’s signature character-propelled core that have also elevated Prisoners and Sicario above the genre fare they could have otherwise fallen into. I love his twist on genre expectations, and Arrival is a particularly beautiful example at that.

moonlight

3. Moonlight

This is the film that’s on every one of these damn lists, and here it is on mine. I had the opportunity to see Moonlight just before it screened publicly at Telluride or TIFF, so I was able to go in without expectations. What I found was a beautifully shot, uniquely structured, and wonderfully empathetic film. There is an elegance to Moonlight that is rare. Director Barry Jenkins unfurls the story so well that by the time the final third rolls around and Andre Holland (in my opinion, the standout performance of the film, though Mahershala Ali is also fantastic) shows up to charm the hell out of everyone, you feel like you’ve properly experienced the main character’s life along with him. I’m thrilled that the response to Moonlight has been so enthusiastic, and I’m keen to revisit it.

blue-jay

2. Blue Jay

So here we are at our final two spots. And first comes the film that was both one of the funniest and probably the single most moving movie I saw all year. Blue Jay was such a beautiful, heartfelt film. I absolutely adored it, and while I feel like I can’t succinctly articulate why, I attempted to do so at more length in my full review of it. It’s on Netflix now. Please seek it out.

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1. Louder Than Bombs

So I still have the same #1 film as I did when I made my mid-year list? How boring, I know. But nothing topped Joachim Trier’s English-language debut for me. It is a simple story, and could be boiled down to “white people problems” for some. But I found Trier’s examination of a family dysfunction so honest. It is both quietly brutal yet strangely hopeful. This is one of the few examples of the genre that manages to strike that balance, never falling into mopey melodrama or twee sentimentality. It feels honest – almost mundanely so – yet completely riveting from start to finish.