Posts Tagged ‘Ben Mendelsohn’

Victory at Any Cost

Darkest Hour

Director: Joe Wright

Cast: Gary Oldman, Kristin Scott Thomas, Lily James, Ben Mendelsohn, Stephen Dillane, Ronald Pickup, Samuel West, David Schofield, Joe Armstrong, David Strathairn

Oscar nominee Gary Oldman (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) gives an Oscar worthy performance in his nuanced portrayal of cantankerous British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill whose face is completely transformed to look like Churchill thanks to the superb makeup and prosthetic by Kazuhiro Tsuji.

Acclaimed director of Atonement Joe Wright is the perfect candidate to steer this compelling political war drama Darkest Hour as the story meticulously tracks the events from Churchill’s inauguration as prime minister, including a particularly refined scene between the PM and King George VI wonderfully played by Ben Mendelsohn to the anxious events leading up to the ingenuous evacuation of British troops from the beaches at Dunkirk, successfully anticipated and engineered by Churchill himself and the British sea going public.

If Christopher Nolan’s latest film, Dunkirk is a stunning depiction of that crucial maritime military evacuation, then Joe Wright’s Darkest Hour is the companion film showing the political and administrative events which lead to that escape from the invading Nazi forces which were aggressively sweeping across the European continent in May 1940.

The fact that both Dunkirk and Darkest Hour are vying for Best Picture at the 90th Oscars is a testament to how exceptional both films are made. Joe Wright should have got an Oscar nomination for Best Director.

At the heart of Darkest Hour is Gary Oldman’s finest onscreen performance, a superb acting tour-de-force in which he completely embodies every aspect of Winston Churchill from his unconventional drinking habits to his affectionate if often tumultuous relationship with his level headed wife Clementine superbly played by Oscar nominee Kristin Scott Thomas (The English Patient).

Oldman’s performance rarely falters and actually improves as Darkest Hour progresses, a performance with such gusto and insight that all audiences will see is Winston Churchill, a seasoned politician, a risk taker and a man who had the entire fate of the British nation in his sometimes shaky hands, yet who realized the gravity of the approaching invasion of the Germans at the beginning of World War II.

Churchill’s doubt about whether the British must fight Hitler to the bitter end or sue for an untrustworthy peace is conveyed in an extremely relevant scene between him and the king who politely suggests that perhaps as prime minister, Churchill should seek advice from the British public, encapsulated in a jingoistic scene whereby he discusses the grave decision with commuters on the London underground before stepping off at Westminster.

Aided by theatrical costumes by Oscar winner Jacqueline Durran (Anna Karenina) and a sumptuous production design, Darkest Hour is an epic film made all the more riveting by a staggering performance by Gary Oldman who must surely get the long awaited recognition he deserves for his limitless acting talent and his pivotal contribution to world cinema.

Darkest Hour gets a Film rating: 9.5 out of 10 and is highly recommended for viewers that love historical biographies such as The King’s Speech and The Iron Lady.

Rebellion in the Galaxy

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Director: Gareth Edwards

Cast: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Forest Whitaker, Mads Mikkelsen, Riz Ahmed, Alan Tudyk, Ben Mendelsohn, Jimmy Smits, Donnie Yen, Wen Jiang, Alistair Petrie, Genevieve O’Reilly, Carrie Fisher, James Earl Jones

British director Gareth Edwards grew up on the original Star Wars Trilogy like most young kids born in the 1970’s and was heavily influenced by directors George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. The Godzilla and Monsters director pays homage to the original Star Wars trilogy in the superb spinoff film, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story featuring a diverse ensemble cast.

Felicity Jones

In the lead roles are British actress and Oscar nominee Felicity Jones (The Theory of Everything, Inferno) as Jyn Eso and Mexican star Diego Luna (Milk, Elysium) as Cassian Andor along with Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen (Casino Royale) as Eso’s father Galen Eso and unrecognizable Riz Ahmed (The Reluctant Fundamentalist) as treasonous Empire pilot turned Rebel Bodhi Rook.

Diego Luna

Audiences must remember that Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is a prequel to the original Star Wars film made in 1977 and centres on the rebels lead by Eso who plan on stealing the plans to the Empire’s galactic weapon of mass destruction, The Death Star. As the film unfolds and there is lots of inter-planetary travelling, Eso along with Andor and an Empire droid wonderfully played by Alan Tudyk battle the mighty Empire commandeered by an evil Orson Krennic superbly played by the blue eyed Australian star Ben Mendelsohn (Mississippi Grind).

Ben Mendelsohn

What is most impressive about Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is the tight narrative and impressive visual effects, the plot ably written by screenwriters Tony Gilroy and Chris Weitz who pepper the action packed intergalactic journey with visual treasures and homages to the original Star Wars trilogy which dazzled the world back in the 1970’s and 1980’s.

Riz Ahmed

Any fanboy or girl of the original trilogy especially the first two films, Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back will appreciate all the references in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story including the Death Star, brief appearances by the malignant Darth Vader voiced again by James Earl Jones and even a glimpse of R2D2 and C3PO as the droids wave goodbye to Eso and the gang as they travel to Scarrif, a tropical island planet with an Empire base which resembles the Palm Jumeirah in Dubai resulting in one of the best battle sequences seen in any of the Star Wars films.

Director Edwards sets the bar high with Rogue One with a tight storyline, witty dialogue and solid central performances by Felicity Jones and Diego Luna. There is also some influential supporting roles including Oscar winner Forest Whitaker (The Last King of Scotland) as Saw Gerrera who is Jyn Eso’s guardian after her father Galen is mysteriously captured by the Empire Stormtroopers and Jimmy Smits (Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith) reprising his role as Senator Bail Organa.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is a superb prequel, a visual sci-fi feast which will have specific appeal to the dedicated fans of the Star Wars franchise. Now that George Lucas has sold the rights to Disney, the Star Wars universe is going to expand exponentially and in more innovative ways, cashing in at the all international box offices as each new film gets released.

This is highly recommended viewing for lovers of this extraordinarily imaginative Sci Fi franchise. If you love Star Wars then don’t miss Rogue One, it’s a classic.

 

Packing for the Promised Land

Exodus: Gods and Kings

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Director: Ridley Scott

Cast: Christian Bale, Ben Kingsley, Joel Edgerton, John Turturro, Aaron Paul, Sigourney Weaver, Ben Mendelsohn, Ewen Bremner, Maria Valverde

After the success of Gladiator and Robin Hood, British director Ridley Scott tackles the Book of Exodus in his ambitious cinematic reworking aptly titled Exodus: Gods and Kings, dedicated to his deceased brother director Tony Scott (True Romance, Top Gun, Man on Fire).

Exodus: Gods and Kings, starts when Moses is a muscular young man taken into the ancient Egyptian court of Seti the supercilious Pharoah played by John Turturro whose son and heir apparent Ramses played by Joel Edgerton becomes like a brother to Moses. All sibling affection soon vanishes, when Moses visits the enslaved Israelites who are forced to build pyramids, sphinxes and tombs to the Egyptian kings.

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Moses played by Oscar winner Christian Bale leaves Egypt and sets off for Midian where he meets his future wife Zipporah played by Spanish actress Maria Valverde. While in Midian, Moses is visited by God in the form of a vengeful boy who promises to free the Israelites from Egypt and set curses upon the ancient land. God makes Moses a leader and instructs him to lead the Israelites out of Egypt into the promised land of Canaan.

After several years of marital bliss, Moses returns to Egypt to discover that the brutal and vain Ramses has taken power and forced the Israelites into an entrenched and vicious slave labour, while the ancient Egyptians live an idle life.

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Once the ten plagues of Egypt have cursed the land of the Nile completely, Ramses will banish the Israelites from Egypt into the desert of Sinai and cinematically these ten curses upon the House of Ramses are brilliantly recreated from rivers of blood to the seminal deaths of the first born Egyptian sons including that of Ramses heir, whilst the Israelite first born sons are spared during the Passover.

In Exodus: Gods and Kings, naturally the narrative is completely biblical and sure to be controversial depending on which religious context the viewer is watching this film in. Besides the religious and historical aspects, Exodus: Gods and Kings is an ambitious saga which unfortunately suffers from the weight of its own importance along with a poorly written dialogue which makes the character development flimsy and almost predictable.

This is a pity considering the fantastic ensemble cast which Scott commands including Sigourney Weaver whose part as Tuya barely registers in the overall narrative along with Ben Kingsley as Hebrew leader Nunn and an unrecognizable Aaron Paul (The Need for Speed) as Joshua.

Besides the two main leads with Bale going through the motions as Moses and Joel Edgerton is slightly better as the confused and curse stricken Egyptian king Ramses, Ben Mendelsohn shines as a camp Viceroy Hegerop who lives a debauched life away from the ancient Egyptian city of Memphis.

Maria Valverde is convincing as Moses long suffering wife Zipporah who is also basically neglected in an overtly patriarchal narrative which gives little credence to any of the female characters in the story. Sigourney Weaver’s Tuya suffers a similar fate, merely feeling a presence without any significant motivation.

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As a film, Exodus: Gods and Kings could have been so much better, including more lavish cinematography, better acting and a more intelligent handling of the Book of Exodus which is complex enough as a religious text, thus making it even more difficult to translate this biblical story into a relevant 21st century cinematic narrative.

In terms of Ridley Scott’s excellent filmography including A Good Year, Gladiator, Blade Runner, Thelma and Louise, Exodus: Gods and Kings can be considered his least successful film, yet it will be his most provocative and talked about.

Whether it’s a complete disaster of biblical proportions or a genuine retelling of Moses leading the Israelites into the promised land of Canaan, Exodus: Gods and Kings will be judged historically entirely by the viewer’s frame of reference, religious beliefs, gender and socio-political perspective. Recommended viewing for those that enjoyed Darren Aronofsky’s Noah, Gladiator or long biblical spectacles such as the 1956 Charlton Heston epic The Ten Commandments.

Victims and Heroes

The Place Beyond the Pines

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Director: Derek Cianfrance

Cast: Bradley Cooper, Ryan Gosling, Rose Byrne, Dane DeHaan, Eva Mendes, Ray Liotta, Ben Mendelsohn, Bruce Greenwood, Mahershala Ali, Emory Cohen

Critically acclaimed Blue Valentine director Derek Cianfrance’s absorbing and poignant three act family drama, The Place Beyond the Pines is almost Shakespearean in nature as the narrative delves into the psyche of contemporary masculinity and the legacy that men leave behind for their sons. That legacy is naturally shaped by the actions and deeds that a man did whose triumphs or sins will haunt the next generation.

The film opens with a motorbike stunt sequence in a metal ball in which three stunt riders’ ride around in a seeming and noisy symmetry. Ryan Gosling (Drive, Gangster Squad) is introduced as Luke who as a down on his luck, tattooed stunt driver earns money at the local fairs in upstate New York, Schenectady to be exact. After a brief one night stand with a local waitress Romina played by Eva Mendes, the itinerant stunt rider Luke returns to the town a year later to discover that he has fathered a one year old son.

Cash-strapped and desperate, he befriends a local two bit mechanic who says that the quickest way to make some serious cash is to rob a couple of local banks using his unique stunt riding skill set. Desperate to offer some form of financial support to Eva and his newborn baby, Gosling soon goes on a Bank robbing spree. After a serious of successful stints, one last job goes horribly wrong and Gosling’s fate as a man and a father gets inextricably tied in with a young and ambitious local cop Avery Cross, superbly played by Bradley Cooper (who really has excelled in the serious acting stakes since his remarkable Oscar nominated performance in Silver Linings Playbook).

The Place Beyond the Pines is an intimately shot and skilfully directed study of masculinity by Derek Cianfrance and the intricate sprawling story line is both riveting and powerful as the actions of both men, Gosling and Cross reverberate for the next two decades.

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This is a brilliant piece of film noir assisted by a remarkable supporting cast including a wonderfully menacing performance by Ray Liotta as a corrupt cop Deluca and Dane DeHaan as Gosling’s confused but vulnerable teenage son Jason. Whilst the female characters are intentionally underwritten, it really is Mendes who excels in a grittier role as a mother who has to bring up a son whilst keeping a secret about his real father’s criminal past.

The Place Beyond the Pines is about legacy, betrayal, corruption, aggression and ambition in a small town American community which sees two men from opposite social spectrums both portrayed alternatively as victim and hero in the narrative who make the wrong choices for all the supposedly right reasons, only to have those choices impact their own son’s destinies.

Cianfrance deserves an Oscar nomination for his gripping direction as he deftly captures the intensity and brooding atmosphere of small town America where every man is angling for a better life despite the consequences and their own circumstances. The Place Beyond the Pines is a highly recommended film which will firmly elevate Oscar Nominees Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper as two of the most promising actors of their generation. This gripping crime drama also stars Rose Byrne as Avery Cross’s wife Jennifer and Bruce Greenwood as District Attorney Bill Kilcullen.

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