Tag Archives: Albert Finney

Big Fish

Who Bought It?: Megan

Why?: I actually saw and liked this movie and decided to purchase it.

Non-Buyer’s Response: Going in, I have no strong feelings about this one.

Megan’s Thoughts:

I was 15 when I bought Big Fish. Having seen it now, 12 years later, I realize I did not actually understand the movie. I just thought Ewan McGregor was cute and Tim Burton is one of my favourite directors and it was quirky and beautiful. I think I was entertained by the film but looking at it now I can see there’s no way I comprehended how much it speaks about life and legacy.

Big Fish (based on the novel of the same name by Daniel Wallace) is about Will Bloom (Billy Crudup), a writer who, as his father Ed’s (Albert Finney) health disintegrates, tries to uncover more about him from the stories and myths he was told as a boy. Stories that Will believes to be made up fairytales but that Ed firmly stands by. There are giants and jumping spiders and a traveling circus. There are legendary-sized fish and Siamese Twins and picture-perfect towns where no one wears shoes and even the water is sweet. Ed lives in a romantic world while Will lives in a pragmatic one.

The flow of story, the humour and the adventure to Big Fish all weave together and make for a thought-provoking film that had me reflecting on my own history afterward. What are the stories I will pass on? What stories of my parents will I tell my children? Would I want to know how I die, if I could?

The cast of Big Fish is just as impressive as the seemingly tall tales of Ed Bloom. Danny Devito as the circus ringmaster Amos. Jessica Lange as Mrs. Sandra Bloom. Steve Buscemi as the poet Norther Winslow. And…wait is that…Miley Cyrus as the little girl that says “Edward, DON’T” as a young Ed Bloom approaches the witch’s house? Yes it is. And she was credited as “Destiny Cyrus.” Thanks for filling me in on that tidbit, internet!

As much as I enjoyed Big Fish there were a few parts of it that made me shake my head. Mostly, Ed’s wife Sandra, and how we never hear from her on the topic of his tales. Instead, she seems to drift in and out of rooms with a vacant smile on her face. I understand this particular story was to be told between Will and Ed, but having Sandra around just made her seem useless and ignorant. Will often mentions how he and his mother were on great terms so a large, nagging part of my brain said: “Then why don’t you just ask your mom to verify these stories if you’re so curious? Shouldn’t she know?” Or if not, should she take some time to sit Will down and be like “Look dude, is it really hurting anyone if these stories are a little embellished? Stop being so pessimistic.”

Also made me shake my head: a 32-year-old Ewan McGregor playing an 18-year-old for a good portion of the movie. I can suspend a lot of disbelief, but that seemed a bit much. However he also had to play a 40-year-old at other points, depending on the flashback. I guess I never would have been happy so fine.

But I take the side of Ed Bloom any day. I am the dreamer, the storyteller, the entertainer. I come from storytellers in the family and the belief that a good story can be better than a good meal. And I’d watch Ed Bloom’s stories come to life again, and I’d like to see what this movie means to me as I get older and reflect on my own legacy. You win this time, ageless Ewan McGregor. I’d like to KEEP IT.

Max’s Thoughts: 

At one point in Big Fish, Ed Bloom tells his son “We’re storytellers, both of us. I speak mine out, you write yours down. Same thing.” It’s moments like these that provide the heart of the movie and moments like this that I was too young to appreciate when I first saw it, just like Megan. Both of us come from families of oral storytellers, and both of us have chosen to write ours down. (I’ll come back to this). It’s a shame Billy Crudup’s Will is a distant, emotionless and unknowable character, both of us were just dying to love him.

We didn’t.  But the two Ed Bloom’s (McGregor and Finney) absolutely put this movie on their collective back. Perhaps it’s because he’s stopped getting the big name, above-the-title roles that he used to, maybe its because its been a while since I’ve watched him in his prime, but I had completely forgotten how charismatic Ewan McGregor can be.

ewan

Oh, you.

And Albert Finney… he’s the kind of actor that leaves me at a loss for words. I’ve never seen him be anything other than impeccable and complex. When he plays a mob boss in Miller’s Crossing, he does so with a touch of whimsy. When he’s dumped into a world of whimsy and half-truths like Big Fish, he provides the gravitas needed to ground a movie with its head as far in the clouds as this one. He almost never gets out of bed, yet he is the backbone of the entire film.

Albert

 “I was dried out.” Albert Finney, everyone!

Personal storytime: This is essentially a movie about Will Bloom trying to get the “real story” out of his dad before he dies. It struck a chord with me big time. I have one living grandparent (Grandma Adele), and she is the last living member of the generation of my family that was around for what I’ve started calling “The Shamban Creation Legend.” Let me explain, as best and as quickly I can, from the pseudo-legendary stories I’ve heard so far.

My Grandpa Marc was born one of four brothers. Sonny (the oldest), Howard, Marc and Billy. When Sonny was around 13-years-old, their father died. I’ve never heard anything about their mother, but Sonny got a job delivering papers, supporting his younger brothers financially throughout their childhood. I learned recently that my grandpa thought Sonny was his dad until a certain age. Here, the details become hazy, but after being more or less raised by Sonny, all three of the little brothers went on to become very, very wealthy. Howard and Grandpa Marc founded a marketing firm together in the 1950’s and Billy outstripped them both with some kind of manufacturing company that I know very little about.

This is the version of the story kicking around in my head, picked up over the course of my life in bits and pieces. Who knows what of it is true? But the whole point of all of this is that the truth isn’t the point. The histories of regular, non-famous families like mine are not usually put down in books or in movies, but passed down from generation-to-generation over the dinner table. They become embellished, surely, but over time they become the story of where you came from, and how you came to be.

Its a story I didn’t realize I wanted to write until we watched Big Fish. Most importantly, it’s a story that I’m running out of time to learn because all four brothers are dead, as are all their wives besides Grandma Adele. Since we watched Big Fish, I’ve reached out to Adele, and the children of Howard, Sonny and Billy (my second cousins I think)  and plan to get a full view of these four men who laid the foundation for the modern iteration of my family.

That was the effect this film had on me. When that happens, I think proper criticism becomes irrelevant. KEEP IT. 

Verdict: KEEP

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Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead

Who Bought It?: Megan.

Why?: I’m a huge Philip Seymour Hoffman fan. I bought it without seeing it from the $5 bin at the movie rental store I worked at.

Non-Buyer’s Response: This might be the ultimate “I can’t believe you bought this” one. “Hmm. A sobering, somber PSH movie about matricidal robbery that I’ve never seen? Sure. I’ll buy it.”

Megan’s Thoughts:

Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead is about brothers Andy (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and Hank (Ethan Hawke) who organize the robbery of their parents’ jewelry store. The job doesn’t go well, triggering a series of events that sends them, their father (Albert Finney) and Andy’s wife Gina (Marisa Tomei) into turmoil. This dark, gritty crime drama has an all-star cast with an A-List director and a gripping premise. And while I respect the work that came together, the performances, the story…I did not enjoy this movie.

Frankly, it boiled down to one point over and over again: the timeline.

Director Sidney Lumet and writer Kelly Masterson made some choices with the flow of time in this film that had me aching and impatient. We continually flash back or forward to see each character’s arch in the days leading up to or after the robbery, playing on the same moments several times. We actually see the robbery before we see the characters decide to take the robbery on, which made me itch as we watched the brothers discuss their options and hum and haw, all the while I’ve known for 15 minutes that they go through with it. I have some pretty firm beliefs when it comes to flashbacks and playing with timeline in a feature and in general, I hate it. This was, unfortunately, no exception.

However, applause all around for the breathtaking cast. PSH’s manipulative, bullying manner over his brother contrasted against his absolute submission to his wife was nothing short of mesmerizing. But, is a great performance enough for me to keep a film that made me bounce my knee impatiently for 2 hours as we flipped and flopped in time? No. It’s not. No matter how perfect the scenes were when Andy went to his drug dealer’s apartment, or the almost-laugh-out-loud-in-disbelief moment when Gina asked Andy for cab money as she left him, I will never watch this movie again. I’m sorry, Philip Seymour Hoffman. It’s a TOSS this time.

Max’s Thoughts: 

I too have a very strict code when it comes to flashback/flash-forward scenes. I’ll just say Lost isn’t my favourite show. But the flashbacks and flash-forwards in Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead (BTDKYD), were great. They are exactly what flashbacks are perfect for: Illuminating those little cracks in human perception. They can show us how numerous people see the same thing, and that’s how it works in BTDKYD. It’s very much a flashback style cribbed from Rashomon. And I liked that.

The problem I had with this movie was the pacing. It was all kinds of wrong, which is almost to expect given the toying Sydney Lumet did with the chronology. Yet Pulp Fiction doesn’t have pacing issues. Memento, aka the movie that is only flashbacks, doesn’t have pacing issues. It’s doable, is what I’m saying.

Sydney Lumet was undoubtedly a great director, and this flick proved that, even at 83 years old, he still had a little bit of mustard on his fastball. The actors in his charge shine. Ethan Hawke is particularly bright, almost by way of how well he holds his own in scenes with PSH. Hoffman is such a scenery-chewer that he blows 99% of everyone he’s in a scene with right out of the frame. The guy played a freaking valet in The Big Lebowski and still managed to steal every scene he was in opposite peak-form Jeff Bridges. And yet Hawke, who’s character is basically designed to be overpowered and overwhelmed in every scene he shares with Hoffman, holds up. Marisa Tomei is OK (bonus: she doesn’t appear in a scene without showing her boobs until about 35 minutes in), and Albert Finney has straight up never been bad. In a way, the handling of Finney’s father character is why I think that while Lumet could still throw a fastball, he’d lost plenty of velocity over the years. Maybe the aging ace leaned a bit too heavily on his curveball – in the form of the Rashomon-esque timeline and obsessive portrayal of the Hawk/Hoffman fraternal bond – for his own sake.

Albert Finney’s Charles Hanson is the real protagonist of this movie. In about 20 minutes of screen-time, the skeleton of a really great movie about the father of two sons who rob the family jewelry store becomes visible. Without spoiling the ending, Charles’ arc is the heroic journey, and Lumet failed to fix this critical flaw in (I assume) Masterson’s script. This isn’t a movie about two brothers. It’s a movie about a father. But Lumet doesn’t throw 98 MPH anymore. So we got the curveball that was Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead. TOSS IT. 

Verdict: TOSS.

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