Posts Tagged ‘Ben Whishaw’

Whimsical Magical Musical

Mary Poppins Returns

Director: Rob Marshall

Cast: Emily Blunt, Ben Whishaw, Emily Mortimer, Meryl Streep, Colin Firth, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Pixie Davies, Nathanael Saleh, Joel Dawson, Dick van Dyke, Angela Lansbury

Chicago and Memoirs of a Geisha director Rob Marshall returns with another hit musical Mary Poppins Returns featuring Emily Blunt as Mary Poppins immortalized by Julie Andrews in the original 1964 hit film Mary Poppins.

Fortunately Emily Blunt is such an accomplished actress that she nails the part of Mary Poppins to absolute perfection ably assisted by Broadway star Lin-Manuel Miranda as Jack the lamplighter who between the two of them share most of the musical numbers.

Brideshead Revisited and Skyfall star Ben Whishaw plays Michael Banks and his sister Jane Banks is played by Emily Mortimer. The real stars of Mary Poppins Returns are the three Banks children John, Anabel and Georgie wonderfully played by Nathanael Saleh, Pixie Davies and Joel Dawson respectively.

Mary Poppins Returns is Disney in full swing for the 21st century and the musical numbers are brilliant especially the lamp lighters dance sequence as well as some well-placed cameo’s by Oscar winner Meryl Streep (Sophie’s Choice, Kramer vs Kramer and The Iron Lady) as the garish and outrageous cousin Topsy along with Oscar nominee Angela Lansbury (Gaslight, The Manchurian Candidate, The Picture of Dorian Gray) as the Balloon Lady and Golden Globe nominee Dick van Dyke (Mary Poppins) as Mr Dawes.

Other notable stars are Oscar winner Colin Firth (The King’s Speech) as the evil bank manager Wilkins who is completely unsympathetic to the plight of Michael Banks whose Cherry Tree Lane house in Depression era London is about to be repossessed unless Mr Banks can find share certificates which can prove he has some form of collateral to retain his family home.

Oscar nominee Julie Walters (Billy Elliott, Educating Rita) stars as the housekeeper Ellen who manages to keep the chaotic Banks household in some form of domestic stability.

Cleverly Mary Poppins Returns captures the magic of a whimsical musical for a 21st century audience while paying homage to the original 1964 film which made a star out of Julie Andrews who also won an Oscar for her iconic performance in 1965. Emily Blunt, with her pithy and clipped English accent, is superb as the no nonsense nanny who ignites imagination in the three young Banks children while handling all the brilliant musical numbers.

Highly recommended viewing for the entire family, director Rob Marshall does a brilliant job with Mary Poppins Returns and is definitely worth seeing.

Mary Poppins Returns gets a film rating of 8 out of 10 and is absolutely brilliant. If Disney is going to do a sequel so long after the original film you can bet that it’s going to be spit spot!

The Portrait of Lili

The Danish Girl

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Director: Tom Hooper

Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Alicia Vikander, Amber Heard, Matthias Schoenaerts, Ben Whishaw, Sebastian Koch, Sophie Kennedy Clark

After the phenomenal success of The Kings Speech and Les Miserables, director Tom Hooper returns to the art film, in the transgender drama The Danish Girl set in Copenhagen in 1926 starring Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything) and Alicia Vikander (Testament of Youth, Anna Karenina).

Based upon the novel by David Ebershoff, The Danish Girl focuses on the extraordinary story of the artistic couple Gerda and Einor Wegener, a husband and wife team who rise to fame when the husband Einor decides to take on the personality of a woman Lili Elbe, who initially was an artistic experiment so that Gerda could paint her husband dressed as a woman. What Gerda soon realizes is that Einor’s penchant for silk stockings and furs goes far beyond the being the subject for a portrait.

In a series of radical costume changes, always looking absolutely gorgeous Einor slowly shed his masculine persona and becomes the dainty and gorgeous Lily Elbe, even stepping out in public at an artist’s ball, where she, Lily attracts the attention of Henrik played by Ben Whishaw (Brideshead Revisited, Spectre). What is lacking in The Danish Girl is a coherent exploration of sexuality as the evolution of Lili Elbe is devoid of sexual desire despite the advances of Henrik and the natural dissolution of conjugal activities within Einor and Gerda’s own marriage.

Eddie Redmayne transformation into Lili is truly remarkable but it is really Alicia Vikander who holds the emotional weight of the film together as she grapples to deal with the significant issue that her husband might be transsexual and soon realizes that the best way to deal with this transformation is to ultimately support this radical decision.

As a film dealing with transgender and transsexual issues, The Danish Girl is aesthetically beautiful to watch, the costumes are exquisite and the production design quite sublime, but the gender politics of the film is not fully explored to the extent that such daring shows as HBO’s Transparent are, featuring a breakout Emmy winning performance by Jeffrey Tambor or even more contemporary set films as TransAmerica or Jared Leto’s turn as the tragic Rayon in Dallas Buyers Club.

Instead, Tom Hooper offers viewers an historical insight into the extraordinary model known as Lili Elbe who sat for several fabulous portraits painted by Gerda Wegener. Redmayne’s performance should be applauded although after his career breaking role as Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything, he should be weary of becoming typecast as playing characters that go through immense physical and emotional suffering.

The real gem of The Danish Girl belongs to Alicia Vikander’s emotional and brave performance as Gerda Wegener. Vikander is brilliant as she really holds the emotional crux of the film together. The rest of the mostly European cast have minor roles including Belgian actor Mathias Schoenaerts (Rust and Bone, Far From the Madding Crowd) as a smooth and elegant Parisian art dealer, Hans Axgil, Amber Heard (The Rum Diary) as a ballerina Ulla and Sebastian Koch as a sympathetic German doctor Warnekros.

Upon a second viewing, The Danish Girl could prove to become an LGBTI classic, as a beautiful film, its rather provocative tale could certainly become a subject of future gender studies courses. The Danish Girl is very similar to Girl with a Pearl Earring, except the portrait model is the fashionable Lili Elbe, which is played with exceptional femininity by a man.

 

 

Killers and Liars

Spectre

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Director: Sam Mendes

Cast: Daniel Craig, Lea Seydoux, Christoph Waltz, Naomie Harris, Monica Bellucci, Ben Whishaw, Ralph Fiennes, Rory Kinnear, Dave Bautista, Andrew Scott, Jesper Christensen

British director Sam Mendes follows up his 2012 blockbuster Skyfall, with the 24th installment of the 007 franchise aptly named Spectre, which serves as a pastiche of all previous Bond films, but particularly referencing Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace and Skyfall.

With a truly spectacular opening sequence shot during the Day of the Dead festival in the sprawling and crowded central plaza of Mexico City, Spectre promises better and bigger cinematic moments. On all accounts, Spectre delivers although at times, the Bond film could have been more tightly edited.

The action sequences in Mexico City, Rome and Tangier are gripping and the production design and cinematography are quite startling, shading the film between sequences of extreme illumination and murky darkness in keeping with the sinister undertone pervading the entire narrative.

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Mexico City and Tangier are beautifully done, with gorgeous colours contrasting against the monochromatic elegance of the Roman streets at midnight or the snow covered Austrian Alps during ski season.

The Tangier scenes are clearly influenced by Bernardo Bertolucci’s classic film, The Sheltering Sky, especially when Bond and Dr Swann disembark from the Moroccan train into a sweltering Saharan desert, while the previous action on board mirrors that of The Spy Who Loves Me. Audiences should watch out for Dave Bautista (Guardians of the Galaxy) as the Spectre henchman Mr Hinx who has a penchant for popping a man’s eyes out with his thumb nails.

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Daniel Craig returns as James Bond looking slightly weary and a tad less nimble but nevertheless maintaining a smirk on his face along with those dazzling blue eyes. In a stroke of genius casting, French actress Lea Seydoux is brilliant as Dr Madeleine Swann, daughter of the Pale King, whilst the villain is suitably menacing and at times slightly camp, Franz Oberholzer better known as the evil mastermind with a penchant for white Persian cats, last seen in You Only Live Twice, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and Diamonds are Forever.

Naturally, Oscar winner Christoph Waltz (Inglourious Basterds, Django Unchained) is fabulous as Bond’s crazed arch enemy, but somehow does not make as brilliant an impression as Javier Bardem did as Raoul Silva in Skyfall.

With the absence of Judi Dench as M, Ralph Fiennes, appears craggy and irritable as the new M, reminiscent of the original M in the 1960’s Bond films. Refreshingly, Naomie Harris as Moneypenny and Ben Whishaw as the technically gifted Q have bigger roles in Spectre, acting always as Bond’s necessary sidekicks. Watch out for a brief but glamourous cameo by Monica Bellucci as Lucia Sciarra and Jesper Christensen as the ubiquitous Mr White, last seen in Quantum of Solace.

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Spectre, which stands for the Special Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion is subtly portrayed as a pervasive and dangerous shadow organisation responsible for all sorts of international atrocities, which in the 21st century is particularly apt. As the visual references abound throughout Mendes’s Spectre, it will only be the serious Bond fans that will spot all those cinematic clues. In this respect, Spectre pays tribute to the success of the longest running film franchise ever, without undermining its inherent and enduring appeal.

Spectre is highly recommended viewing for ardent Bond fans, although some might find this film slightly long and the narrative muddled, but then again, one has to identify all the past 007 signifiers, for Spectre to be truly appreciated.

The question remains, much like the creepy opening sequence, is there life after Spectre?

 

 

 

Razor Sharp 007 is Back

Skyfall

Super Suave Spy Back on his Home Turf

From Shanghai to Scotland, Skyfall, the 23rd film in the James Bond franchise is both an intriguing espionage thriller closer to a John le Carre novel, yet beautifully retaining all the quintessential 007 traits which have made all the Bond films the most successful franchise in cinema history from fast cars, exotic locations, dangerous animals and naturally nubile Bond girls leading the smartly suited spy to the evil villain who is always masterminding destruction, mayhem or in this case, revenge.

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There was much anticipation leading up to Skyfall as it also marked 50 years of James Bond, when the first Bond film burst on the screen in 1962 introducing Sean Connery as Bond in the exotic Dr No. Whilst a lot has changed in 50 years, the essence of Bond as a suave, international spy chasing after megalomaniac villains in far corners of the globe has always been the same. In Skyfall, whilst there is more angst explored in the relationship between Bond and M, there is an equal share for the hideously brilliant villain, Raoul Silva, played with psychotic panache by Oscar-winner Javier Bardem who is hell bent on revenging M, head of Mi6 for allowing him to be captured by the Chinese as the British relinquished Hong Kong in 1997.

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Skyfall also marks a departure from other Bond films in that there is less exotic locations outside the UK but more British based action which is equally thrilling especially the Tennyson quoting assassination sequence in Westminster or the brilliant explosive climax at Bond’s long forgotten Scottish family estate Skyfall in rural Scotland.

What really raises the level Skyfall is the brilliant direction by Sam Mendes of American Beauty and Revolutionary Road fame, who not being an action director brings more dysfunctional characterization and interpersonal twists to the Skyfall narrative complimented by the brilliant acting talents of Bardem apparently handpicked by Daniel Craig to play the villain and of course Dame Judi Dench as M, Bond’s shadowy, yet tough mother figure. All Bond’s mother issues are resolved in Skyfall along with coming to terms with a tragic childhood in the remote Scottish highlands.

50 Years of 007: The Actors Might Change but the Characters Remaining Intriguing…

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Skyfall is superb yet not conventional multi-layered Bond film crisply shot by Roger Deakins’s excellent photography especially noticeable in the Shanghai Skyscraper sequence, and while the action sequences are not as outlandish as some of the previous more bizarre Bond films such as Moonraker or The Spy Who Loved Me, this is the threadbare, recession hit 21st century and not the lavish late 1970’s.

Daniel Craig holds his own in his third portrayal as Bond and is more comfortable in this iconic role as a razor-sharp, still sexy and slightly jaded spy always ready for action. From a fabulous attention-grabbing chase scene in Istanbul to the wonderful opening sequence which is both lethal and seductive, choreographed to British singer Adele’s gorgeous rendition of the themesong: Skyfall, viewers are promised a seductive, slick and emotionally engaging Bond film.

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Of particular note is the engaging encounter between Bond and the ruthless suggestive villain Silva, an expert internet hacker in an abandoned island outside the Special Administrative Region of Macau. The scene between Craig and Bardem is absolutely superb with Javier Bardem using the full range of deviancy as the enemy of Mi6 and a ruthless hypnotic villain. Skyfall is razor sharp cinema, occasionally funny and essentially British and promises not the end of a franchise but an elegant re-alignment of the Bond universe for the Second Decade of the 21st century living up to the charming Bond family motto, The World is Not Enough….

Decline of the English Aristocracy.

Brideshead Revisited

The period between the World Wars in the Twentieth century has always been a fascinating time in Western History. The 1920’s and 1930’s saw a huge resurgence in creative energy in Europe, notably the Bohemian decadence of Parisian artistic circles and the radical Modernist aspirations of the Bloomsbury Group. Those two decades with all its turbulent European events marked the eventual decline of the Victorian formalities that restricted the 19th century, something that Oscar Wilde predicted would eventually falter.

Brideshead Revisited is a sumptuous big screen adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s complex examination of the erosion of the ideals that held the English aristocracy in so much high regard, from their religious and moral superiority to the many temptations that members of that class succumbed to, from adultery, to forbidden sexuality and substance abuse, to the many foreign attractions of marrying outside that closed world in order to insure their own survival. Remnants of that particular aristocracy have obviously evolved fifty years on and still dwell in secluded regions of England and Europe.

However it was really during the 1930’s with the devastating effects of the 1929 Wall Street Crash and the ensuing economic depression that engulfed much of the Western World and the inevitable outbreak of World War II that marked the demise of the seemingly immovable landed gentry in Europe. Sound Familiar? Fortunately we don’t have any World Wars looming in this century, but the future can never entirely be predictable.

The wealth is in the title...

The wealth is in the title…

Historical observations aside, Brideshead Revisited is a complex and brilliant film, directed with a fluid and delicate eye for detail by Julian Jarrolds who rose to fame with Becoming Jane about the life of Jane Austen and Waugh’s novel, a magnum opus which is superbly crafted into an epic narrative by Jeremy Brook, screenwriter for such classic films as Mrs Brown and The Last King of Scotland, no easy accomplishment considering that in the 1980’s Brideshead Revisited was an extremely successful BBC mini-series mainly because of the scope of Waugh’s detailed analysis of the decline of British Aristocracy between the Wars.

With BBC backing and between director Jarrolds, and the success of Jeremy Brook as a screenwriter, I was assured that this epic masterpiece would be given all the respect it deserves. Brideshead Revisited is like a tour-de-force of some of the best films on similar themes from the beautiful Merchant Ivory film, The Remains of the Day to the more recent critically acclaimed Atonement and of course the spectacular Wings of the Dove, all these films based on acclaimed novels by Kazuo Ishiguro, Ian McEwan and Henry James respectively.

What sets Brideshead Revisited apart from these comparable screen masterpieces, is its particular emphasis on the religious aspect of this aristocratic families decline, their staunch attachment to Catholic principles despite a life rather decadently lived. For as long as the characters receive absolution for their sins before death, then their place in the afterlife was secured, as we are so rightly told by Brideshead Matriarch, Lady Marchmain a brilliant performance by Emma Thompson.

From the gay and carefree days of Oxford in the late 1920’s to sumptuous Venetian palazzo’s complete with a cameo by White Mischief star Greta Scacchi, the camp and flamboyantly destructive Lord Sebastian Flyte, played by Ben Whishaw lives a self-indulgent and decadent existence, luring an unsuspecting artist Charles Ryder into this unscrupulous and almost fiercely protected yet infinitely opulent world.

Ryder played with subtle dexterity by Match point star Matthew Goode is soon embroiled in the intrigues of an aristocratic family whose powerful religious convictions are as strong as their indulgences and desires are deceptive. As the characters develop and destroy each other aspirations, it really is the property of Brideshead itself, which takes centre stage, an imposing stately mansion filled with Roman Catholic art, fountains and sculptured gardens.

Like the palatial homes seen in The Remains of the Day, A Handful of Dust and now in Brideshead Revisited, it was ultimately the ownership of such lavish estates that fell into jeopardy and were often auctioned off or decommissioned for military purposes once the full effects of World War II had embraced Europe, changing and scattering that aristocracy forever, since without property ownership, all claims of wealth are an illusion.

Brideshead Revisited is a sumptuous cinematic feast, the kind of epic film that has seemingly long gone out of fashion to be replaced with the slick computerized world of American paranoia that Hollywood so duly produces. Of course it is essentially British, and any viewer who has a deep appreciation of literary films and especially of historical epochs will surely be grateful to see such attention given from the gorgeous costumes to the magnificent scenery from Venice to Marrakech lavished on a well-deserved and extremely pertinent period film about the fluid and almost traceable decline of a world long gone. With intelligent insights into such complex themes as religious superiority, addiction and forbidden desires, it is obvious that the strengths of Brideshead Revisited will be recognizable in the 21st century while such issues still remain as relevant in today’s society, as they were seventy years ago.

Don’t miss such a superb classic as Brideshead Revisited, as the story demonstrates that no matter how powerful a society is, that power can quickly be eroded by historical events and economic insecurities, not to mention all the accompanying desires that so often plague the human race.

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