Archive for July, 2010

Whale Music

Wednesday, July 28th, 2010—Film

Whale Music (Canada 1994, Comedy/Drama), Writers: Paul Quarrington, Richard J. Lewis; Director: Richard J. Lewis

I have often thought of writing about Whale Music on this blog. I even re-watched it a few months ago with that purpose in mind, but just didn’t get to it. Today, I’m writing about it briefly as a tribute to its star, Maury Chaykin, a gifted Canadian actor who died yesterday—his birthday—at age 61.

Whale Music stayed with me from the first time I saw it, well over a decade ago. It’s about a lost man named Desmond Howl (Chaykin) who was once a highly successful rock star, but now hides in his dilapidated ocean-side mansion, haunted by the death of his brother (Paul Gross), heartbroken over the infidelity of his wife (Jennifer Dale), and obsessed with composing a symphony for whales. When 19-year-old runaway Claire (Cyndy Preston) hijacks his loneliness and refuses to let him wallow, the two find a way to heal some of the gaping wounds in their hearts by making their own off-beat brand of music together.

There is more to Whale Music than just its lead performer. The writing is textured and deep, which isn’t surprising given that it was co-written by the late Paul Quarrington, who wrote the Governor General’s Award-winning novel upon which the film is based. It paints a vivid picture of a truly disturbed mind, offering the kind of layering and complexity that was sadly missing from this summer’s blockbuster psychological thriller, Inception.

Whale Music is also richly atmospheric. In bringing it to the screen, director Richard J. Lewis took the opportunity to bolster the profound storyline with the awesome beauty of the British Columbia coastline, and the breathtaking sights and sounds of whales—the most majestic and mythical creatures on the planet.

But. Whale Music would not be what it is without Maury Chaykin’s magnificent performance.

I have always loved Chaykin’s acting. He’s been in the business for more than three decades (since before I was born), bringing depth and colour to characters in dozens of films and TV shows, including Blindness, Dances With Wolves, The Sweet Hereafter, Exotica, My Cousin Vinny, The Mask of Zorro, Entourage… And of his many performances, the one he delivers in Whale Music has long been my favourite.

On the back of Whale Music’s DVD case, Chaykin is proclaimed to be “a monument of emotion.” It’s corny, but it’s true. Chaykin was a big man. It’s as if he used every extra ounce to channel the incredible energy and feeling that fuelled his performances. You can feel the emotion he’s portraying on camera, almost as if it were coursing through your own veins, accelerating the beat of your own heart. Or at least, that’s the power he had over me in his best work.

I’m so sad he’s gone. He was always a highlight in any film I found him in, a reason to go and see it. I’m thankful, though, that so much of his passion and talent have been preserved on film. He took his gifts and returned them to everyone who watched his work. If I feel this loss as deeply as I do, I can only imagine that it must be resounding across the country, even around the world, for those who really knew him. Maury, you will be missed and you will be remembered.

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For more on Richard J. Lewis, check out his feature on


The Kids Are All Right

Sunday, July 25th, 2010—Film

The Kids Are All Right (USA 2010, Comedy), Writers: Lisa Cholodenko, Stuart Blumberg; Director: Lisa Cholodenko

The Kids Are All Right is a simple story about a family experiencing growing pains. True, the topics up for dinnertime discussion are slightly less conventional than those taking place in most houses on the block (sperm donors; lesbian interest in male-on-male porn). But in spite of its unorthodox architecture, this family is always treated with the utmost respect by the filmmakers. That respect, combined with great dialogue and superb acting, is what makes me recommend this film so highly.

The family is: lesbian couple Jules (Julianne Moore) and Nic (Annette Bening), their biological children Joni (Mia Wasikowska) and Laser (Josh Hutcherson), and the children’s sperm donor father, Paul (Mark Ruffalo). Until now, Jules and Nic have raised their daughter and son on their own. But when Joni turns 18, she and her younger brother decide to contact their father.

What follows is a light, heartfelt, often funny exploration of family dynamics and boundaries that focuses on immediate issues and concerns—as opposed to making a larger statement on sexuality and gender roles. Co-writer and director Lisa Cholodenko makes no apology for Jules and Nic’s lifestyle choices, and keeps the film relatively drama-free. As a result, we’re allowed to share in the experience of a family that strays from the nuclear tradition, without being burdened by the stigma that too often surrounds homosexuality.

[This honest, authentic look at non-traditional families and homosexuality is reminiscent of another excellent film, Shortbus, which, by coincidence, I wrote about exactly three years ago. Shortbus has a smaller target audience, but it’s a very unique film with a lot of layers, and one I’d recommend to anyone interested in broadening their perspective.]

The Kids Are All Right also offers an honest portrayal of a second often-stigmatized occurrence: marriage. In a world where the humdrum of a lifelong commitment to one person—a commitment that requires work and compromise—is so often sneered at, it’s gratifying to see a couple that has had its share of challenges but isn’t ready to fold at the first sign of difficulty. As Jules says, marriage is “a f—–g marathon!” that only gets more complicated as the partners age and change. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth the effort. It comes with a family—a home—and as long as you choose the right partner, there’s nothing like going the distance together.

If you’re looking for something thoughtful and funny amid the high-voltage drama of Salt or Inception, you can’t go wrong with The Kids Are All Right. Simple though the story may be, it brings normalcy and understanding to subjects that many people could benefit from being enlightened about. And the performances really are outstanding across the board. Moore, Bening and Ruffalo have already proven their chops in countless films, and they don’t disappoint here. As Joni, young Wasikowska (who starred as Alice in Tim Burton’s recent Alice in Wonderland) looks poised to become a huge breakout star in the coming years.