Published On: Thu, Oct 5th, 2017

Farewell to Harry Dean Stanton, both Lucky and great

Starring Harry Dean Stanton, David Lynch, Beth Grant, James Darren, Hugo Armstrong, Barry Shabaka Henley and Yvonne Huff. Directed by John Carroll Lynch. Opens Friday at TIFF Bell Lightbox. 88 minutes. 14A

What’s a five-letter word meaning “great performance”?

How about Lucky, which also happens to be the title of the directing debut of Fargo actor John Carroll Lynch. Fate has made this beautifully lensed personality study the last major on-screen role of actor Harry Dean Stanton, who died last month at age 91. It’s a fitting showcase and farewell for his natural ability to inhabit a character.

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Stanton is the eponymous Lucky, a name dating back to his Second World War days as a Navy sailor. He resides in a western backwater where there seems to be as many cacti as people, and he has a daily routine.

It begins with calisthenics at home, done in his underwear to lively Spanish music, followed by coffee and a crossword puzzle at a diner. He rounds out the day with a “Bloody Maria” cocktail at a bar named Elaine’s.

He walks everywhere, easily spotted by his faded straw cowboy hat, and he always has a ready opinion — such as why he thinks the crossword answer “realism” is as much as a thing as a concept. When Lucky accidentally falls in his kitchen, the townsfolk fret about his health, but his doctor (Ed Begley Jr.) declares him to be “one tough son of a bitch.”

Lucky has a face that looks as if it wore out three bodies, but his mind remains lively and his personal interactions are quirkily endearing. One of his friends, played by his Twin Peaks director David Lynch, is searching for an escaped tortoise that goes by the name President Roosevelt.

People worry that Lucky smokes too many cigarettes, the American Spirit kind in the bright orange box — what, no Lucky Strikes? — but if they were going to kill him, they would have done so already.

“Nothin’s permanent,” he dryly observes, but Lucky, in his own low-key way, will prove to be not as laconic as he seems.

If all this doesn’t sound like much, it’s not, except for the fully realized performance by Stanton, who might as well be playing himself — and screenwriters Logan Sparks and Drago Sumonja did write the role just for him. They also included scenes where he demonstrates his genuine skills as a harmonica player and singer.

Stanton had a long career as a character player, with a noteworthy star turn in Paris, Texas, the 1984 Palme d’Or winner by Wim Wenders. Lucky quietly but persuasively makes the case that this most human of actors should have been used as a lead more often.

Also opening: Mike Slee’s docudrama rainforest exploration Amazon Adventure,at the Ontario Science Centre; Michael Almereyda’s sci-fi memory drama Marjorie Prime, at the Carlton.

Peter Howell

Rebel in the Rye

Starring Nicholas Hoult, Kevin Spacey. Written and directed by Danny Strong. Opens Friday at Famous Players Canada Square. 106 minutes. PG

For generations of high-school students, Catcher in the Rye was a rare treat, a book they could actually relate to that portrayed the existential angst of being an adolescent on the cusp of adulthood.

First-time director Danny Strong, drawing on the biography by Kenneth Slawenski, offers a faithful and often moving look in the life of J.D. Salinger, a warts-and-all portrayal that succeeds in large part because of a dynamically persuasive performance by Nicholas Hoult.

The film chronicles young Salinger’s formative years as a smart alecky young man with a wry sense of humour. When asked what J.D. stands for, he replies: “Juvenile delinquent.”

Kevin Spacey is predictably sublime as Whit Burnett, who recognized Salinger’s talent only to be callously discarded and Zoey Deutch is wonderfully vivacious as love interest Oona O’Neill.

Strong demonstrates a steady hand throughout, creating a fairly engrossing take on an author known for one iconic work who in the end turned his back on notoriety in favour of solitude.

Bruce DeMara

Loving Vincent

Starring Douglas Booth and Jerome Flynn. Co-written and directed by Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman. Opens Friday at TIFF Bell Lightbox. 95 minutes. 14A

This portrait of artist Vincent van Gogh truly is a labour of love, an animated film with all 65,000 oil-on-canvas frames painted by a team of 115 in the artist’s signature style.

Don’t let the gimmicky nature of the film deter you, however, or you’ll miss out on a film that is a visual marvel throughout. It’s really quite an entrancing experience.

The story takes up a year after van Gogh’s death when the son of a postmaster, who was a dear friend of the artist, sends him on a quest to deliver a letter to the painter’s brother, Theo.

Armand Roulin (Douglas Booth) soon finds himself immersed in a mystery: did the artist shoot himself, dying in agony a day later, or did someone else?

The story acts a pretext to meet many of the people van Gogh so famously painted in his short career but doesn’t really bring us any closer to resolving the mystery. Nor should it.

The other mystery: why do the actors have British accents? That small quibble aside, the film is a visually arresting and worthy tribute to a genius.

BD

Great Great Great

Starring Sarah Kolasky, Daniel Beirne and Richard Clarkin. Directed by Adam Garnet Jones. Opens Friday at the Carlton. 77 minutes. 14A

Circling 30, Lauren (solidly played by co-writer Sarah Kolasky) worries she’s dully accepting an uninspired existence with nice-guy boyfriend Tom (Dan Beirne) when she should be living a never-settle life. He’s an unemployed civic planner who spends his time building LEGO in their living room. So she may have a point.

She’s been passed over for a promotion, her five-year relationship is feeling stale, and even her parents are at a crossroads, and so Lauren obsesses over whether there’s something better out there. She falls into a hot affair with her older boss, David (Richard Clarkin), the same guy she made a mistake with years before but she’s not into anything permanent. Angry that her parents won’t work at saving their relationship, Lauren fails to see the disconnect when doesn’t have the will to do the same in her own.

It makes us curious to about the whys of her impulsive choices but Kolasky and co-writer Adam Garnet Jones (Fire Song), who also directs, don’t get us deeper. Still, talented Kolasky is an actor to watch for.

Linda Barnard

My Little Pony: The Movie

Starring Tara Strong, Emily Blunt, Ashleigh Ball, Andrea Libman, Zoe Saldana, Taye Diggs, Sia and Liev Schrieber. Directed by Jayson Thiessen. Opens Friday at GTA Theatres. 99 minutes. G

Carrying pink plastic ponies, the kids at a preview of My Little Pony: The Movie gave it a glowing review: their rapt attention. But pony newbies may be galloping to catch up as the film assumes we know all about the ponies and politics of Ponyville, where Princess Twilight Sparkle (Tara Strong) is planning a friendship festival.

Those festivities are thwarted by Commander Tempest Shadow (Emily Blunt), who arrives to enslave the kingdom on behalf of the Storm King (Liev Schrieber). Twilight and her team embark on a journey to find their would-be saviours, the hippogriffs.

Everything great about the My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic TV show is retained in the film, including the proudly nonsensical sense of humour. But Friendship Is Magic’s core appeal is its hyper pace, while most of the film feels like an exercise in creating enough plot to hit the 90-minute mark.

Especially tedious are the musical numbers, save for the closing song “Rainbow” by Sia, which puts a feel-good finale on a flat film.

Ryan Porter

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Farewell to Harry Dean Stanton, both Lucky and great