Now You See Me 2
Director: Jon M. Chu
Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Lizzy Caplan, Mark Ruffalo, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Daniel Radcliffe, Dave Franco, Sanaa Lathan
Following the success of the 2013 magical film Now You See Me, there was definitely a call to make a sequel and reunite the illusive four horsemen.
In the sequel, Now You See Me 2, G. I. Joe: Retaliation director Jon M. Chu misses the mark in providing a magical follow up to the original film, despite reuniting the same cast including Jesse Eisenberg as Daniel Atlas, Woody Harrelson as Merritt McKinney who also has a rather irritating identical twin brother in this film, Mark Ruffalo as Dylan Rhodes and Dave Franco as Jack Wilder.
New to the cast is master illusionist Lula played by Lizzy Caplan famous from the raunchy Masters of Sex TV series and the superfluous Daniel Radcliffe as a reclusive tech billionaire Walter Mabry who recruits the magicians to steal back a ubiquitous yet highly guarded computer chip which can hack into anything at an international exchange in the glamorous resort casinos of Macau.
As the action moves swiftly from New York to Macau and then onto London, the magical tricks and digital illusions even involving numerous card tricks in which the microchip seemingly passes from one horseman to another, Now You See Me 2 appears to be lacking in the essential element of revelation. Something the first film did so brilliantly. For as the optical illusions, card tricks and magic increases, there is less time to provide valuable explanations to the bewildered if slightly amused audience.
Veteran actors Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman reprise their roles as Arthur Tressler and Thaddeus Bradley respectively whose unholy alliance leads the Four Horseman to play the ultimate trick on the chief villain, a poorly played part by Daniel Radcliffe, who unfortunately appeared to be out of place in this sequel. Perhaps Radcliffe should stick to stronger script material with meatier roles in mind like he did in Victor Frankenstein and Kill Your Darlings.
Oscar nominee Mark Ruffalo (Spotlight, Foxcatcher) is plausibly believable as the elusive FBI agent Rhodes despite occasionally giving the impression that he should not have signed on for this sequel. Harrelson is in top form playing twins and the only sparks are provided by Eisenberg and Caplan who seem to be the most energetic and enthusiastic magicians.
Whilst Now You See Me 2 falls short of being as brilliant as the first film, it certainly is a fun film to watch even if the plot is slightly convoluted especially in between the globetrotting disappearing acts that the main actors seem to do quite effortlessly. Now You See Me 2 is an enjoyable film, but nothing as magical or dazzling as the original. Lets hope the third film in this magical trilogy is more impressive.
Director: Duncan Jones
Cast: Travis Fimmel, Dominic Cooper, Ben Foster, Paula Patton, Toby Kebbell, Daniel Wu, Ben Schnetzer, Glenn Close, Anna Galvin, Robert Kazinsky, Clancy Brown
Moon and Source Code director Duncan Jones who incidentally is the son of the late pop icon David Bowie takes on a big budget action fantasy in the highly anticipated Warcraft featuring some dazzling motion capture technology which even gives Dawn of the Planet of the Apes credible competition.
Featuring an all-star cast including the roguishly handsome Travis Fimmel of Vikings TV fame as Anduin Lothar, warrior of the fictional world of Azeroth who has to contend with the orc’s arriving en masse from their dying world of Draenor through a visually spectacular portal which causes worlds to collide.
On the orcs side, Toby Kebbell (Dawn of the Plant of the Apes), plays Durotan who soon realizes that the orcs mission is doomed to fail and Paula Patton (Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol) plays Garona a conflicted and gorgeous looking half orc, half human who becomes a prisoner of the Azeroth warriors.
On the human side, there is the dashing Dominic Cooper (The Duchess, Devil’s Double) as King Llane Wrynn and the brilliant Ben Foster (Kill Your Darlings, The Finest Hours) as the mercurial magical protector Medivh who are all tasked with protecting Stormwind Keep from the invading Orcs and their malevolent leader.
Ben Schnetzer (The Riot Club, The Book Thief) pops up as a gifted young wizard named Khadgar who assists in protecting Stormwind Keep while discovering the significant source of the Orc invasion in Azeroth. Audiences should also watch out for a brief uncredited appearance by Glenn Close.
Based upon a series of extremely popular real time strategy computer games created by Blizzard entertainment, Warcraft is a superbly produced, visually spectacular fantasy film catering to a wide audience including those that are not even familiar with the apparently addictive and highly entertaining PC games which opened up entire realms of imagination.
As the worlds of Azeroth and Draenor collide, there are epic battle scenes, visually impressive fight sequences and a twist in this fantasy drama which is enough to even cater for hard core Game of Thrones fans. Warcraft is surprisingly brilliant, a superbly directed epic fantasy which is sure to attract a loyal fan base especially if there are sequels in the pipeline.
Highly recommended viewing for those that relish the world of fantasy and the eternal battle between good and evil in whatever form it takes, both beautiful and hideous.
The Nice Guys
Director: Shane Black
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Russell Crowe, Kim Basinger, Matt Bomer, Angourie Rice, Margaret Qualley, Beau Knapp
Russell Crowe reunites with his L.A. Confidential co-star Kim Basinger along with Ryan Gosling in the Buddy action film The Nice Guys set in Los Angeles in 1977, amidst a sleazy world of fading porn stars, smog and gas restrictions.
Actually, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang director Shane Black sums up The Nice Guys in the opening sequence of the film, with a young boy stealing a porn magazine from under his parents bed, only to narrowly escape a sports car driving through the house whereby he discovers the curvaceous body of the porn star Misty Mountains, bloodied and trapped in a wrecked car asking “How do you like my car?”
Sex and driving are equated multiple times in this seventies L. A. crime caper romp.
Oscar nominee Ryan Gosling (Half Nelson, Drive) teams up with Oscar winner Russell Crowe (A Beautiful Mind, Gladiator) for a seventies buddy movie in the vein of Starsky and Hutch although slightly more X-rated and definitely more violent. If the plot appears slightly convoluted that’s because it’s meant to be and possibly points to one of the structural weaknesses of the film.
But the on-screen bromance between Gosling and Crowe is perfect and central to what makes The Nice Guys such a humourous and quirky film. That and Gosling’s character, Holland March, a sleazy hard drinking and hapless private eye who is trying to keep his life together while raising a teenage daughter Holly superbly played by Angourie Rice. The disorganized March’s relationship with his daughter is what makes this film work as it is the central motivating factor forcing him to get his act together, acting as the emotional core of an otherwise macho buddy film.
The action sequences are wild and spectacular including a bizarre sequence at a studio 54 inspired party in a Bellair mansion as well as the dazzling finale at the Bonaventura Hotel in downtown Los Angeles at the 1978 California car show which goes haywire when JohnnyBoy a Detroit assassin wonderfully played against type by Matt Bomer (The Normal Heart, Magic Mike) attempts to retrieve an important porn film which implicates highranking officials in the American auto industry as well as a ruthless and cold California Chief Justice Judith Kuttner played by Oscar winner Kim Basinger.
Shane Black’s The Nice Guys is not a perfect film, but rather a homage to the late 1970’s California, a society obsessed with fame, cars and fading porn stars as well as a hedonistic desire to escape the worst of the post-Nixon Watergate scandal.
Highly recommended viewing if audiences enjoy a quirky seventies tale with off the wall action, lots of retro style and peppered with witty dialogue which will keep them guessing. It’s also a chance to see two brilliant Hollywood actors take a turn at physical comedy especially Gosling who is hilarious in the smoking on the toilet with a gun in his hand bathroom scene.
Audiences should also look out for Val Kilmer’s son Jack Kilmer as the impressionable projectionist Chet who unwillingly gets caught up in the whole investigation initiated by The Nice Guys while searching for the mysterious girl in the yellow dress named Amelia.
Director: Jodie Foster
Cast: Julia Roberts, George Clooney, Jack O’Connell, Dominic West, Caitriona Balfe, Giancarlo Esposito, Christopher Denham
Young British actor Jack O’Connell certainly seems to be handpicked by Oscar winner female actresses turned directors to star in their films. First it was O’Connell’s brilliant portrayal of Olympic athlete Louis Zamperini turned prisoner of war in the World War two epic Unbroken directed by Angelina Jolie and now he is cast as the disgruntled young investor Kyle Budwell in Jodie Foster’s live action hostage drama, Money Monster set on Wall Street, New York city.
Echoing a similar vibe to the brilliant Spike Lee film, Inside Man, in which Jodie Foster starred, Money Monster is a gripping tale of TV show which is taken hostage by the unhinged yet scared Budwell, who holds the show’s vain TV host Lee Gates hostage. Gates is wonderfully played by Oscar winner George Clooney (Syriana) who literally has to put his life in the hands of the Money Monster show producer Patty Fenn, a sharp and sassy performance by Oscar winner Julia Roberts.
The fact that Money Monster has Julia Roberts and George Clooney as the two main leads is testament to the film’s star power yet rising star Jack O’Connell holds his own as the desperate and slightly idiotic Budwell who has literally bitten off more than he can chew, when he creates a live hostage drama so that the show, Money Monster can ascertain the real truth behind an investment company Ibis mysteriously losing $800 million which is initially blamed on a glitch due to a trading algorithm.
As Money Monster develops, it soon emerges, that the slimy CEO of the murky multi-national Ibis, Walt Camby wonderfully played by Dominic West, last seen in the brilliant series The Affair, has done some dodgy stock manipulation as well as orchestrating some labour unrest at a platinum mine in South Africa. No surprise there.
Money Monster is a taut, watchable thriller and whilst the plot is at times contrived, it is a fascinating indictment on the power of broadcast media especially in the public’s hunger to witness a dramatic spectacle unfold, made more pertinent as the conflict being televised relates to the incomprehensible world of international high finance, where a chosen few are entrusted with the financial futures of millions of shareholders in these precarious economic times.
As a director Jodie Foster highlights the immediacy of Live Television while skilfully blending in the less than glamorous, but flawed characters behind the scenes which generate such flashy media content. Clooney and Roberts are particularly well cast as TV host and producer while O’Connell once again demonstrates that his star is on the rise.
Money Monster is highly recommended viewing, extremely watchable, unpredictable and very entertaining.
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Fassbender, James McAvoy, Rose Byrne, Oscar Isaac, Nicholas Hoult, Sophie Turner, Tye Sheridan, Olivia Munn, Josh Helman, Ben Hardy, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Lucas Till, Evan Peters
Director Bryan Singer’s latest film forms the conclusion of a prequel trilogy. X-Men Apocalypse is a pastiche of 80’s paranoia even though the main villain Apocalypse originates from Ancient Egypt and is set upon decimating the world of man and mutants circa 1983, having risen out of a gold pyramid in modern day Egypt and decides annihilation is in order.
Reassembling much of the cast of X-Men: First Class, X-Men Apocalypse stars Jennifer Lawrence (The Hunger Games Trilogy) as Raven/Mystique, James McAvoy (Victor Frankenstein) as Charles Xavier, Michael Fassbender (Macbeth) as Magneto, Nicholas Hoult as Hank McCoy/Beast and Game of Thrones star Sophie Turner as a young Jean Grey and Rose Byrne returns as Moira Mactaggert who first confronts the devastating power of Apocalypse in Cairo and alerts Charles Xavier and his band of mutants to the imminent danger.
Despite some of the mutants not wanting to be drawn into another conflict, they soon all bandy together when they realize how dangerous Apocalypse is, in his unrelenting quest to destroy human civilization circa 1983 and along with that eighties world, the parallel community of the mutants.
X-Men: Apocalypse is more mutants versus a more formidable mutant, than man vs mutant, although like always Magneto has several changes of conscience especially after seeing his young wife and daughter accidentally killed in a Polish forest. Soon Erik Lehnsherr aka Magneto unleashes all his anger and becomes the perfect ally for Apocalypse’s annihilating antics.
Much of the action alternates between America, Poland and Egypt and whilst X-Men: Apocalypse does not have that some groovy retro feel as the seventies set X-Men: First Class, there are some distinct 1980’s signifiers including a collage of Reagan material, nuclear armament as well as stock images pointing to the last decade of the cold war, where mistrust defined global politics.
Bryan Singer knows how to direct such a large ensemble cast even though audiences at times might get a sense of Mutant overload, but then again this is X-Men: Apocalypse and the more superhumans the better. X-Men: Apocalypse is definitely a case of the Unusual Suspects.
Clearly the cast of this film had great fun making it and the visual effects are truly inspiring especially the Egyptian sequence when the Mutants take on Apocalypse with his band of malevolent mutants including Psylocke played by Olivia Munn and birdman Angel played by Ben Hardy.
Audiences should also watch out for Tye Sheridan as a young Cyclops and Kodi Smit-McPhee as the turquoise teleporter Nightcrawler, who Mystique discovers in a cage fight in East Berlin.
X-Men: Apocalypse is recommended viewing for those that enjoyed X-Men: First Class and X-Men: Days of Future Past, all three films now make up the prequel trilogy. Marvel is certainly milking a lucrative franchise for all its worth and audiences are lapping up the ever expanding mutant universe.
Alice Through the Looking Glass
Director: James Bobin
Cast: Mia Waskowska, Johnny Depp, Anne Hathaway, Helena Bonham Carter, Sacha Baron Cohen, Lindsay Duncan, Rhys Ifans, Stephen Fry, Timothy Spall, Michael Sheen, Richard Armitage, Andrew Scott, Alan Rickman
Contrary to popular belief the author of Alice Through the Looking Glass was not high on drugs although the latest film version by James Bobin seems to suggest otherwise. Victorian author Lewis Carroll was prone to doses of Laudanum but certainly not to hallucinations due to any mind altering drugs. Carroll whose real name was Charles Lutwidge Dawson did hang out with the Pre-Raphaelites and obviously possessed a vivid imagination.
Following the immense success of director Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland in 2010, Alice Through the Looking Glass fortunately reassembles the same cast with a much larger part for Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter.
Additions to the new film, include British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen (Hugo, Borat, The Dictator) as Father Time and Rhys Ifans (Notting Hill) as the misplaced father of the Mad Hatter, Zanik Hightopp.
Mia Wasikowska reprises her role as Alice Kingsleigh and Lindsay Duncan (Birdman) stars as her mother Helen Kingsleigh.
Visually, Alice Though the Looking Glass is a real treat, a sublime and whimsical journey into a fantasy world in which Alice must travel through time and a looking glass and not only battle Father Time but the evil Red Queen of Hearts, wonderfully played again by Helena Bonham Carter.
This time the evil Queen seeks vengeance upon her sister Mirana, played with virginal innocence by Anne Hathaway, plunging Wonderland into chaos as the Queen of Hearts against the warnings of Father Time, confronts a past version of herself, a jealous little girl who was blamed for her sister’s naughty tricks of stealing tarts.
Whilst Alice Through The looking Glass will certainly appeal to a younger female audience, its themes are certainly of an adult nature – never regret the past, never try and take revenge on your family and most importantly always strive for what is your rightful inheritance. Mia Wasikowa is utterly believable as the headstrong Alice who in the prologue of the film is battling to save her late father’s ship from being taken away by greedy Victorian creditors.
Alice Through the Looking Glass, despite some big names in the cast is a brilliant ensemble piece, beautifully told and superbly directed by James Bobin under the guidance of Tim Burton.
Naturally Depp is completely whacky and delightful as the incorrigible mad hatter, but it’s really Sacha Baron Cohen who steals the show as the ubiquitous Father Time who proves that time is really on our side, despite the proverbial warning.
This rewarding sequel is fun, visually fantastic and highly recommended viewing, a whimsical journey through the looking glass into a parallel universe in which time paradoxically becomes an embodiment of both past regrets and future reconciliations.
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot
Directed by: Glenn Ficarra & John Requa
Cast: Tina Fey, Margot Robbie, Billy Bob Thornton, Martin Freeman, Christopher Abbott, Alfred Molina, Stephen Peacocke, Cherry Jones, Josh Charles
From the directing team that brought audiences, I Love You Philip Morris and Focus, Glenn Ficarra and John Requa bring the Afghan war drama Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, which is military jargon for WTF!
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot focuses on the experiences of journalist Kim Baker who swops the tedious life of a New York media office for the dangerous life of a war correspondent in Afghanistan, from 2004 onwards based on her own novel, “The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan”.
30 Rock TV star and veteran comedian Tina Fey takes the title role and impressively turns in a nuanced, vaguely dramatic performance as Kim Baker ably assisted by a superb ensemble cast including Margot Robbie as a hard drinking cut-throat journalist Tanya van der Poel, Martin Freeman as a snarky Scottish reporter Iain McKelpie and best of all Oscar winner Billy Bob Thornton as the no-nonsense American general Hollanek.
Tina Fey who to date has largely appeared in comic roles alongside Amy Poehler is brilliant as Kim Baker and gives audience a chance to witness her dramatic side. As the emotional and physical strain of remaining in Afghanistan takes its toll, along with media colleagues who double cross her, Baker manages to resist the temptations of falling for her own hunky security detail, the gorgeous Nic, wonderfully played by Stephen Peacocke (Hercules) whilst forming a bond with her Afghani translator and guide, Fahim Ahmadzai brilliantly played by American actor Christopher Abbott last seen in J. C. Chandor’s A Most Violent Year.
Character actor Alfred Molina also makes a hilarious turn as a Westernized Afghani government official Ali Massoud Sadiq who becomes besotted with Tina Fey’s hardnosed journalist.
Besides the decadent partying which occurs in the Ka-Bubble, as the foreigners nickname Kabul, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot highlights with dashes of humour, the difficulties invading Western forces face when dealing with a foreign country and culture so alien to their own, in this case Afghanistan.
What could be gleaned from Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, besides the atrocities involved, is that war is almost like a decadent excursion into a completely different world. The scene in the film where Baker discovers the real reason a watering well is constantly being blown up in an Afghani village points to the larger gender inequalities inherent in war especially when the country being invaded is deeply patriarchal. War itself is demonstrated to be a man’s game and what makes the women in the film so fascinating especially Baker and Van der poel is their fleeting exotic beauty in a country in which the women are entirely covered up, a point so brilliantly made in Whiskey Tango Foxtrot.
Whilst Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is not going to win any awards cinematically, it is nevertheless a humourous and mostly farcical take on the absurdities of war, in the vein of Robert Altman’s classic film M. A. S. H. and Mike Nichol’s 1970 film Catch 22 based upon the Joseph Heller novel. What is notable is the media stance on war, whereby despite the annihilation around them, they refuse to take sides but merely show a mirror up to the brutal horrors of this contemporary man-made conflict in a hostile environment characterized by ample vice and little virtue or trust.
Recommended viewing for those that enjoyed Zero Dark Thirty and David O. Russell’s Three Kings.
Director: Garry Marshall
Cast: Kate Hudson, Jennifer Aniston, Timothy Olyphant, Shay Mitchell, Jason Sudeikis, Julia Roberts, Hector Elizondo, Aasif Mandvi, Robert Pine, Margo Martindale.
Unlike Valentine’s Day and New Year’s Eve, previous Garry Marshall films which featured massive casts and a diverse series of interlinking stories, his third film Mother’s Day is confined by a much smaller cast and a group of actors who really should have been in a better film.
Golden Globe winner Kate Hudson (Almost Famous), Oscar Winner Julia Roberts (Erin Brockovich) are joined by Horrible Bosses co-stars Jennifer Aniston and Jason Sudeikis in Mother’s Day a structurally unsound portrait of different versions of mother hood with Aniston and Hudson taking the lead as struggling young mothers Sandy and Jesse battling to cope with vain ex-husbands in the form of Timothy Olyphant (Live Free or Die Hard) and over bearing mothers in the form of character actress Margo Martindale (August: Osage Country, The Hours).
What really would have worked was if Goldie Hawn was cast as Kate Hudson’s mother in this film, it would have elevated Mother’s Day to an entirely different level of comedy as they are Hollywood mother and daughter.
Garry Marshall also entices his Pretty Woman costars Julia Roberts and Hector Elizondo back on screen together. Roberts plays a Home shopping Network TV Queen, Miranda who doesn’t appear to have children. Jason Sudeikis who was so hilarious in The Hangover trilogy stars as a widower Bradley battling to cope with bringing up two young daughters after his wife and mother of his children, a marine, was inexplicably killed in combat. Jennifer Garner pops up briefly as the dead mother seen through video footage.
Whilst all the characters in Mother’s Day gradually interlink in contemporary Atlanta, the plot of the film is overlong and at times contrived, but nevertheless Mother’s Day is a very light hearted comedy, which will appeal to many an audience who are looking for a cosy and warm cinematic outing with their moms.
Audiences should not expect anything terrific or profound in Mother’s Day, but a really fluffy feel good film without too much depth or substance. Watch out for Aasif Mandvi (The Million Dollar Arm) as Jesse’s closeted Indian husband Russell who also has to deal with his own overbearing mother. British actor Jack Whitehall also makes an impression as Zack, an aspiring stand-up comic in the bars of Buckhead, Atlanta.
Mother’s Day is a fun film, but nothing more than a whimsical take on motherhood from a truly American perspective without the added bonus of having some real star power. This is no August: Osage County or Terms of Endearment but then it was never intended to be.
Captain America: Civil War
Director: Anthony and Joe Russo
Cast: Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Elizabeth Olsen, Daniel Bruhl, Anthony Mackie, Jeremy Renner, Chadwick Boseman, William Hurt, Paul Bettany, Martin Freeman, Tom Holland, Alfre Woodard, Frank Grillo, Don Cheadle, Sebastian Stan, Paul Rudd, Emily Van Camp, John Kani, Marisa Tomei
I was never a fan of superhero comics as a kid, but as an adult, the superhero films have captured my imagination. Who can forget The Dark Knight Trilogy by Christopher Nolan who reinvented Batman? Or the recent Batman v Superman blockbuster by Zack Snyder, a sure precursor to the Justice League films set for release in 2017 and 2018?
Moving away from DC comics, their direct rival Marvel has expanded their superhero universe exponentially and in the third installment of Captain America: Civil War, a more iconic superhero pops up, Spiderman curtesy of a Marvel and Sony sharing agreement to reinvent Spiderman within The Avengers universe. Smart move on the part of Marvel and especially Sony whose two previous Spiderman reincarnations were faltering: The Amazing Spiderman and its psychedelic sequel.
Captain America: Civil War features a plethora of superheroes, so many in fact that the inevitable showdown which the title refers to is quite spectacular to behold.
Captain America leads the one camp as he defends his friend Bucky Barnes aka The Winter Soldier, played by Sebastian Stan along with the help of Sam Wilson, aka The Falcon played by Anthony Mackie (The Hurt Locker, Antman), Antman played by the hilarious Paul Rudd, Hawkeye returning from retirement played by the roguish Jeremy Renner.
The other camp is headed up by opinionated tech billionaire Iron Man, wonderfully played again by Robert Downey Jnr, joined by the War Machine played by Don Cheadle (Iron Man 2) and Black Widow played by Scarlett Johansson. Tony Stark aka Iron Man also enlists the help of a young and precocious Peter Parker, wonderfully played by young British actor Tom Holland (The Impossible) as he reinvents Spiderman promising an energetic reinvention when Holland will appear in his stand alone film called Spiderman: Homecoming.
Adding some much needed diversity to The Avengers universe, Black Panther played by Chadwick Boseman (Gods of Egypt), who is also starring in his own origin Black Panther film coming in 2018 also joins team Iron Man as he aggressively fights Bucky Barnes who he believes is responsible for the death of his father, a suitable cameo by South African acting legend John Kani (Coriolanus, The Ghost and the Darkness).
While the Clash of the Superheroes is spectacular and at times appears like a spandex orgy it is really Daniel Bruhl (Rush, Woman in Gold) as the master villain Zemo who has instigated the division between the Avengers as revenge for what occurred in The Avengers: The Age of Ultron, in which his whole family was killed in a supernatural skirmish in some fictional East European country.
Captain America: Civil War is a superb superhero film as the Russo brothers who direct this third instalment of the Captain America trilogy dexterously managing to combine all these diverse superheroes in a brilliant duel whilst also introducing some new and iconic characters. Fans of Iron Man, Ant Man and all The Avengers films will relish this caper standoff sure to capture the imaginations of many Comic con fans and paving the way for Marvel’s relentless cinematic expansion of all their gang of masked crusaders, a sure rival to DC Comics Justice League, although both superhero franchises will definitely benefit financially at the box office.
Captain America: Civil War is highly recommended viewing especially for some superb cameos by seasoned character actors including William Hurt, Alfre Woodard, Martin Freeman and Marisa Tomei.
Queen of the Desert
Director: Werner Herzog
Cast: Nicole Kidman, James Franco, Robert Pattinson, Damian Lewis, Jenny Agutter, David Calder, Jay Abdo, Mark Lewis Jones
German documentary filmmaker Werner Herzog directs Oscar winner Nicole Kidman (The Hours, The Paperboy) in a majestic towering role as Gertrude Bell, a fiercely independent British woman who after escaping the stifling confines of a her wealthy family estate in England travels to Arabia at the turn of the 20th century as the ruling Ottoman Empire is on the verge of collapsing.
The Arabian Peninsula especially modern day Syria and Jordan and into Iraq, 100 years ago was on the point of being carved up by the European powers with England eagerly wanting a slice of Arabia especially with their most prominent colony Egypt right next door.
Gertrude Bell, cartographer, explorer, archaeologist and traveller is first stationed in the British Embassy in Tehran, now contemporary Iran, and there she meets her escort and guardian, a junior diplomatic secretary Henry Cardogan rather underplayed by James Franco (Milk, 127 Hours) who soon declares undying love for her. Bell has to seek permission from her father for the marriage to take place and when her father refuses, Henry promptly dies in mysterious circumstances in Persia.
Bell, wonderfully played by Nicole Kidman returns to Arabia and using Amman and Damascus as a base she wilfully decides to travel through the Arabian peninsula and desert, hoping to get a more comprehensive understanding of the nomadic Bedouin tribes and who the rival Sheiks’ are.
The more Bell travels across the desert the more she realizes how complex the local political situation is. With the assistance of the quick witted and slightly effeminate T. E. Lawrence, superbly played by Robert Pattinson (Cosmopolis, Maps to the Stars, Twilight), Bell becomes an expert on the Arab people and complexities of dividing up such a huge area, for geo-political purposes.
From an ethnographic point of view, Herzog’s Queen of the Desert is a fascinating film to watch and purely interesting, especially if viewed through the current political turmoil that is sweeping parts of the Middle East, namely Syria and Iraq.
The best scenes in the film are between Kidman as the fiercely brave Bell, a statuesque blond and commanding woman who swept through Arabia unafraid of the local customs or inherent dangers and the cautious British major Charles Doughty-Wylie played by Damian Lewis of Homeland and Wolf Hall TV fame.
Not to be confused with Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, which was about Drag Queens in the Australian outback, this Queen of the Desert is a captivating and episodic historical tale of one woman’s brave adventures across the entire Arabian peninsula and her subsequent recommendations on the division of the desert into different self-governing states, namely The Kingdom of Jordan and Iraq.
Best scene in the film is the pompous photo opportunity involving Bell and Colonel T. E. Lawrence with Winston Churchill on top of camels outside the great pyramids of Giza in Egypt.
Whilst the men in Gertrude’s life fade away during the First World War, it is really Nicole Kidman’s film which makes her performance as Gertrude Bell, Queen of the Desert so admirable. Kidman’s ability to hold her own amidst such dramatic and majestic scenery, the windswept sand dunes of Arabia is reminiscent of Debra Winger’s brilliant performance in Bernardo Bertolucci’s handsome film The Sheltering Sky.
Queen of the Desert is highly recommended viewing, slightly long but nevertheless an astonishing historical portrait of a woman who shaped the future of the Arabian Peninsula.