Tag Archives: C

GUEST OF HONOUR

Producers: Simone Urdi, Jennifer Weiss and Atom Egoyan   Director: Atom Egoyan   Screenplay: Atom Egoyan   Cast: David Thewlis, Layla De Oliveira, Luke Wilson, Rossif Sutherland, Alexandre Bourgeois, Arsinée Khanjian, Gage Munroe, Sochi Fried, Tennille Read, John Bourgeois, Isabelle Franca and Alexander Marsh   Distributor: Kino Marquee

Grade: C+

The finest of Atom Egoyan’s films—“The Adjuster,” “Exotica,” “The Sweet Hereafter” and “Felicia’s Journey”—undoubtedly date from early in his career in the nineties. But though his output since then has been highly variable, with intriguing but flawed entries (“Ararat,” “Adoration,” “Remember”) alternating with outright misfires (“Where the Truth Lies” “Devil’s Knot,” “The Captive”), even at his worst the Armenian-Canadian filmmaker exhibits ambition, intelligence and cinematic skill.

So while his latest can be criticized for its odd structure and sometimes risible over-seriousness, its technical elegance and obvious commitment to grappling with the complexities of human motivation make it engrossing, if ultimately unsatisfying.

The titular character of “Guest of Honour” is Jim (David Thewlis), an ultra- fastidious health inspector who’s a stickler for the rules but occasionally uses his authority for personal ends.  As the film begins, he’s recently deceased, and his beautiful daughter Veronica (Layla De Oliveira) is meeting with Father Greg (Luke Wilson) to discuss his funeral.  The priest discusses her father with Veronica in order to prepare his remarks, since he didn’t know Jim, although later on we’ll learn that he had met him once.

From this point the narrative shifts back and forth in time.  The most distant scenes are from seventeen years earlier, when eight-year old Veronica (Isabelle Franca) was living happily with her father, who was then a restaurateur, and her mother Roseangela (Tenille Read).  A number of things happen in this stream.  Jim presents Veronica with a pet—a white rabbit she  names Benjamin.  He also takes her for her first piano lesson with Alicia (Sochi Fried), whose son Walter (Alexander Marsh)—an accomplished performer on musical glasses—instantly takes a shine to her. Unfortunately, there is also a dark aspect to the timeline, as Roseangela falls ill with cancer and young Veronica suspects that her father has become involved with Alicia. 

More recently, Veronica had become a high school music teacher, and led a small orchestra in which handsome Clive (Alexandre Bourgeois) played timpani.  The group was on tour, travelling on a bus driven by scruffy Mike (Rossif Sutherland), when an incident occurred that led her to be charged with indecency with a minor.  She pled guilty and was imprisoned; and when Jim tried to persuade her to apply for early release, she refused. 

He was certain that his daughter was innocent, however, and in the course of his rounds as inspector—shown in extended sequences—he decided to bend the rules he usually enforced so rigidly to discover, at a restaurant run by Clive’s uncle, the reasons behind her decision to embrace incarceration.  That leads to an episode at an Armenian restaurant owned by Anna (Arsinée Khanjian) where Jim, who’d almost closed the place down for infractions, becomes the “guest of honour” at a private function and drunkenly discloses what he has learned—leading to legal difficulties of his own.

It turns out that Veronica’s desire for punishment revolved around incidents involving Alicia and the teenaged Walter (Gage Munroe), who was her boyfriend in high school, over which she has harbored both guilt and hostility toward Jim, though it won’t be until her conversation with Father Greg that her motives are fully revealed.  The priest, in turn, informs Veronica of something he knows concerning Jim and Alicia about which she was unaware, tying up the strands of the complicated narrative.

The back-and-forth structure Egoyan has imposed on “Guest of Honour” will antagonize some viewers, and the lapidary pace he and editor Susan Shipton favor throughout will frustrate them as well, particularly in the sequences recording Jim’s scrupulous attention to detail as he scours kitchens, dining rooms and lavatories searching for matters that need correction.  But the more patient may appreciate the opportunity the deliberation gives to the actors to convey the emotions simmering beneath the surface of their characters.  That applies especially to Thewlis, who gives a performance remarkable for its precision and refinement (even if he can’t entirely pull off the effusive revelatory speech he must deliver toward the close), but to a lesser extent to De Oliveira and Wilson. 

It also allows one to admire the craft contributions of  production designer Phillip Barker and cinematographer Paul Sarossy, who capture the ambience of the varied times and places expertly, though the score by Mychael Danna is rather more obvious in its employment of ethnic cliché to accompany Jim’s visits to different eating establishments.

The other element of the picture that may well be taken to task, and even elicit some chortles, is the rabbit motif.  There’s the thread involving Benjamin, whom Jim cares for scrupulously after Veronica is sent away, serving presumably as a symbol of a relationship that persists even in the face of inexplicable tragedy, but of other things as well that one might have difficulty trying to sort out.  When the animal becomes the focus of Jim’s last-act coming-to-terms-with-himself, however, the episode is presented with a discreet tamping down of the melodramatics that has the opposite of the intended effect. actually accentuating its overwrought nature.  Stray bits of business about rabbits’ feet and ears (the latter a gastronomic delicacy in some circles, it appears), along with speculations about rabbits communing with the spirits of the underworld, might also raise some snorts of amusement. 

Egoyan and Thewlis nonetheless manage to overcome even such narrative miscalculations to deliver a film that, while opaquely structured and less profound than it strives to be, at least aims to dramatize the vagaries of memory, guilt and self-destruction through the prism of a single frayed father-daughter relationship.  The result is a flawed but still fascinating near-miss from a filmmaker whose work—good, bad or indifferent—is always worth attending to.     

NEVER TOO LATE

Producers: Anthony I. Ginnane and David Lightfoot   Director: Mark Lamprell   Screenplay: Luke Preston   Cast: James Cromwell, Dennis Waterman, Roy Billing, Shane Jacobson, Jack Thompson,  Jacki Weaver, Zachary Wan, Renee Lim, Gina Lamprell and Max Cullen   Distributor: Blue Fox Entertainment

Grade: C

Feel-good geezer comedies are a genre staple, and “Never Too Late” is a decent if unexceptional example of the type. An engaging cast makes it tolerable, but it ends up no more distinctive than its banal title. 

A prologue uses file footage to give us the back-story about a quartet of POWs who escaped from a North Vietnamese internment camp fifty years ago, earning the nickname “The Chain Breakers.”  One of them, Bronson (James Cromwell), is determined finally to do what he failed to long ago: propose to the love of his life, Norma (Jackie Weaver).  But to do so, he’ll need to break into the Hogan Hills veterans’ home where she now lives, and fakes a stroke to gain admittance.  Unfortunately, she’s suffering the onset of dementia, and almost as soon as he gets in, she’s transferred out for treatment at another facility.  Meanwhile Bronson’s ruse unravels and stern Lin (Renee Lim), the manager of the place, sees to it that he’s actually admitted as a patient.

That makes for a reunion of sorts, since his old comrades Caine (Dennis Waterman), Wendell (Roy Billing) and Angus (Jack Thompson) are all living there.  Determined to break out and propose to Norma, Bronson convinces them to mount a joint escape by telling them that the commandant of the POW camp where they were imprisoned is in the nursing home where Norma has been sent, and suggesting they should take the opportunity for revenge.  But the plan collapses when they discover he’s lying to them.

When he confesses his reason for wanting to escape, however, they understand, because each has a similar dream.  As a young man Angus, now in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, won a soccer award that was withheld from him, and wants at least to see it in its display case at the stadium.  Wheelchair-bound Wendell has long been estranged from his son Bruce (Shane Jacobson), and wants a chance to reconnect with him.  And Caine, who’s terminally ill, wants to go off on his yacht and die in his own way.  So they all agree to escape, but the mission now has four goals. 

Once again the scheme doesn’t go quite as planned (especially in terms of another resident, Max Cullen’s Hank, whom they enlist as a collaborator), but in the tradition of such films, they pull it off, helped along the way by Elliot (Zachary Wan), a teen whose mother works at Hogan Hills. By the close even the formidable Lin is won over, and Bronson is able to make peace with her as well, though the coincidence that underlies their rapprochement is likely to strain even the most amenable viewer’s willingness to suspend disbelief.

The ensemble play this complicated-but-undemanding scenario with agreeable looseness under Mark Lamprell’s accommodating direction.  Cromwell dominates with his combination of grumpiness and sentimentality, but Thompson brings intensity to his not infrequent rants, while Waterman and Billing each have their moments to shine.  Weaver, on the other hand, has little to do but smile blankly.  But Wan does nicely as the inevitable youngster drawn into helping the old gents, and Jacobson is amiably beefy as Wendell’s waylaid son.

“Never Too Late” will win no plaudits for its technical polish–Peter Falk’s cinematography and Tony Cronin’s production design are no better than adequate, and Marc Van Buuren’s editing is hardly sharp.  Nor is Angela Little’s score a memorable one.

Still, older audiences in particular might enjoy spending ninety minutes with Cromwell and his crew, even if their collaborators behind the camera haven’t provided them with the quality of support they deserve.