Posts Tagged ‘Billy Magnussen’

Courting Princess Jasmine

Aladdin

Director: Guy Ritchie

Cast: Will Smith, Mena Massoud, Naomi Scott, Marwan Kenzari, Navid Negahban, Billy Magnussen

Director Guy Ritchie is known for making distinctly quirky British films like Sherlock Holmes and King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, so it’s surprising to find that Disney has hired the renegade director to be at the helm of a light and fluffy live action version of Aladdin which is at once glossy and glamorous.

Fortunately, Aladdin is saved by a superb performance by the titular star of the film, Egyptian born actor Mena Massoud who grew up in Canada and nails the role. Massoud’s chemistry especially opposite Hollywood superstar Will Smith (Bad Boys, Wild Wild West) as the Genie is brilliant and although his singing is not as satisfying as his female star Naomi Scott who plays the beautiful Princess Jasmine.

Audiences should not compare this live action version of Aladdin to the 1992 animated film which featured an unforgettable performance by the late comic actor Robin Williams as the Genie. This is a 21st century version of Aladdin and Disney casts the film very cleverly to remake this classic tale.

The evil Jafar played by Dutch actor Marwan Kenzari seeks to oust the street wise thief Aladdin in a bid to steal the magic lamp and court the gorgeous Princess Jasmine wonderfully played by Naomi Scott who is locked up in her palace unable to see the kingdom in which she will one day inherit.

Her protective father, the Sultan played by Navid Negahban (American Assassin, American Sniper) refuses to let his daughter venture out into the city streets so Princess Jasmine is forced to conceal her identity where she first meets Aladdin a street urchin who steals her gold bracelet although he blames it on Abu his faithful monkey.

Channeling his Fresh Prince of Bel Air days, Will Smith does an adequate job as the Genie and Mena Massoud holds his own as Aladdin and many of the well-recognized songs from Aladdin including You Need a Friend like Me will be sure to please younger audiences.

Director Guy Ritchie abandons his usual stylistic flourishes and makes a paint by numbers version of Aladdin in keeping with the Disney tradition which at times is vibrant and exhilarating with flamboyant costumes although he does veer straight into Bollywood territory.

Aladdin is certainly very entertaining, although I did find the middle of the film lacking in a cohesive structure and at times the pacing of the film is off, but director Guy Ritchie delivers a family friendly Disney musical which is rare as it’s not normally where his cinematic talents lie.

Aladdin gets a film rating of 7.5 out of 10 and is not brilliant but very entertaining and will certainly appeal to a much younger audience judging by the average age in a Saturday matinee.

Disney once again delivers a hit musical with diversity, vibrancy and a storyline which will have a broad appeal. Recommended viewing for all those that love exotic musicals with a distinctly Eastern flair.

No Income, No Jobs

The Big Short

big_short

Director: Adam McKay

Cast: Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Brad Pitt, Christian Bale, Marisa Tomei, Melissa Leo, Hamish Linklater, Jeremy Strong, Finn Wittrock, John Magaro, Rafe Spall, Margot Robbie, Selena Gomez, Jeffry Griffin, Billy Magnussen, Max Greenfield, Tracy Letts

The critically acclaimed film The Big Short is a highly inventive tale of how six men predicted the collapse of the US housing market and actually made money off this economic disaster.

Christian Bale turns in a brilliant Oscar nominated performance as the socially awkward Dr Michael Burry, a neurologist suffering from Asperger’s Syndrome who gives up medicine to become a hedge fund manager in director Adam McKay’s frenetic financial diatribe The Big Short, about the collapse of the American housing market in 2007 and 2008, which precipitated the worst international financial crisis since the Great Depression back in 1929.

big_short_ver2

Joining Bale in the cast are Oscar nominees Ryan Gosling (Half Nelson) as Wall Street trader Jared Vennett, Steve Carell (Foxcatcher) as hedge fund manager Mark Baum and Brad Pitt (Moneyball) as reclusive banker Ben Rickett. These four men together with two young eager investors Charlie Geller played by John Maguro (Carol) and Jamie Shipley played by Finn Wittrock all predict the imminent collapse of the US housing market due to the instability of unsecured sub-prime mortgages.

Through a series of inter related events between 2005 and 2007, these guys develop a system of credit default swaps by betting against the housing market which like the Tech industry bubble, eventually burst in 2008 bringing down Lehman Brothers in September 2008, one of the world’s largest investment banks, and forcing the entire global economy into a devastating recession.

What makes the entire dodgy financing worse is that the banks and the international rating agencies collude to actually validate the profiting of these credit default swaps, causing the Biggest Short in economic history which inevitably lead to no income and no jobs for millions of people worldwide.

Best Line in the film is prophetically “In five years’ time, everyone is going to be blaming the immigrants and the poor.”

Financial films are never exciting unless the director makes the viewer totally engrossed in what they are watching. Fortunately Anchorman director Adam McKay through some inventive directing and skillful editing along with a fascinating script by Charles Randolph which makes The Big Short an utterly engrossing film.

The Big Short is anchored down by four great performances by Pitt, Carell, Gosling and particularly Bale. Christian Bale and Steve Carell are particularly good and while some of the narrative devices are quite ingenious like Jared Vennett directly addressing the audience or using celebrities like Margot Robbie and Selena Gomez to explain the financial fundamentals especially of synthetic collateralized debt obligations (CDOs), the latter of which ironically taking place at a Blackjack table in Las Vegas.

The Big Short is an engaging, masculine portrayal of greed and power running unabated and the most frightening part about the story is that it is all true. The effects of the 2008 global financial meltdown are still being felt around the world in 2016.

Audiences should also look out for cameos by Melissa Leo and Marisa Tomei along with Rafe Spall (Life of Pi) and Hamish Linklater (Magic in the Moonlight). Unlike Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street or Oliver Stone’s Wall Street, Adam McKay’s The Big Short does not glamourize greed but rather sheds light on how reckless and unchecked rampant capitalism has its pitfalls as the entire world was to find out in September 2008.

The scary part is that, these real life characters portrayed in The Big Short made money off the eventual collapse of a national housing market and some of the larger Banks got away with dishing out unsecured loans to unsuspecting home buyers simply by restructuring the debt packages.

The Big Short is highly recommended viewing for those that enjoy financial films with edge, tenacity and an inventive style without resorting to profanity or decadence.

 

 

 

The Standing Man

Bridge of Spies

bridge_of_spies

Director: Steven Spielberg

Cast: Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Alan Alda, Amy Ryan, Jesse Plemons, Austin Stowell, Sebastian Koch, Will Rogers, Billy Magnussen, Eve Hewson

The opening shot of Bridge of Spies features a suspected spy painting a self portrait of himself in a dingy Brooklyn flat, symbolic of a reflective look at the characters involved in the Cold War and the complicity of the two superpowers whose distrust of each other ripened over four subsequent decades.

Oscar Winner Tom Hanks (Philadelphia, Forest Gump) plays insurance lawyer turned defence attorney in the Steven Spielberg directed Cold War thriller, Bridge of Spies, which despite its length is an absorbing and fascinating film set amidst 1950’s paranoia, propaganda and old fashioned espionage.

With a script by the Coen brothers and Matt Charman, Bridge of Spies raises the profile of British actor Mark Rylance, Emmy nominated for his superb portrayal of Thomas Cromwell in the BBC series Wolf Hall, as suspected spy Rudolf Abel who is arrested in his Brooklyn apartment by American government agents for espionage.

Tom Hanks in one of his most likable performances to date since his brilliant turn in Captain Philips, plays James B. Donovan who at the request of his law firm is asked to give Abel a fair trial despite public opinion being considerably stacked against him. This is 1957 America, a country in the grip of McCarthyism and Cold War paranoia. The Russians are building a wall to divide Berlin in half and each super power is suspected of stockpiling a nuclear arsenal sufficient enough to repeat the horrors of Hiroshima, which ended World War II in 1945.

As the intricate narrative arc of Bridge of Spies unfolds, complete with period production design and gritty cinematography by Janusz Kaminski, it is apparent that Donovan realizes the potential of keeping Abel alive in case for whatever reason the Americans need to use him as a trade for one of their citizens that could potentially be captured behind enemy lines.

This prediction happens sooner than expected when an American pilot, sanctioned by the CIA, Francis Powers, played by Austin Stowell (Whiplash) is shot down and captured in Soviet territory and duly interrogated by the Russians about the spy plane he was flying. To add to the mix, as Berlin is being divided in half by the infamous wall, an American economics student Frederic Pryor played by Will Rogers is captured by the East Germans and who want to use him as a means for these two super powers to recognize the sovereignty of the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) German Democratic Republic.

Oscar winning veteran director Spielberg (Schindler’s List, Munich and Saving Private Ryan) skilfully weaves a very complex espionage tale in which his two main leads Hanks and Rylance have sufficient screen time to paint a portrait of an unusual relationship between attorney and client surpassing the perceived notion of a lawyer defending a suspected spy.

This public conception of Abel’s guilt and Donovan’s sympathy towards his clients is brilliantly portrayed in an affecting scene on the New York subway where commuters all stare at Donovan with disdain after reading press coverage of the trial in the morning newspapers.

Bridge of Spies is an absorbing historical drama about the Cold War, yet at 141 minutes, the film could have been edited although Rylance and Hanks are terrific in their roles as Abel and Donovan. The supporting cast includes Amy Ryan, Alan Alda, Jesse Plemons and Sebastian Koch. Highly recommended viewing for those that relish a vintage spy drama, something which is rarely seen in this digital age.

Not So Happily Ever After…

Into the Woods

into_the_woods

Director: Rob Marshall

Cast: Anna Kendrick, Emily Blunt, Meryl Streep, James Corden, Chris Pine, Johnny Depp, Tracey Ullman, Christine Baranski, Lucy Punch, Tammy Blanchard, Daniel Huttlestone, Lilla Crawford, Billy Magnussen, Mackenzie Murzy

Memoirs of a Geisha and Chicago director Rob Marshall strikes gold with this cinematic adaptation of the Stephen Sondheim Broadway musical Into The Woods featuring a fabulous ensemble cast made all the better by Meryl Streep playing the meddling Witch.

Imagine Little Red Riding Hood teaming up with Jack the Giant Slayer, Cinderella and a forlorn Rapunzel, that is Into The Woods, a wonderful mixture of all the classic fairy tales thrown together in a delightful musical which is hinged with darkness and loaded with metaphors and familial moral codes about life’s unpredictability.

Director Marshall brings out the best in his cast including a superb performance by Emily Blunt as the barren Bakers Wife along with the irrepressible Meryl Streep as the evil Witch who asks the Baker, played by British actor James Corden to collect Cinderella’s golden slipper, a white cow, a lock of Rapunzel’s hair and a red cape naturally belonging to Red Riding Hood.

Oscar nominee Anna Kendrick (Up in The Air) holds her own as the doomed Cinderella who is wooed by a shameless prince played by Chris Pine (Jack Ryan, Shadow Recruit, Horrible Bosses 2). Cinderella’s evil stepmother is superbly played by Christine Baranski of The Good Wife fame and The Birdcage. Audiences should also watch out for British comedian Tracey Ullman who plays Jack’s exasperated mother. Child stars Daniel Huttlestone and Lilla Crawford are amazing as Jack the Giant Slayer and Little Red Riding Hood.

Three times Oscar winner Meryl Streep reunites with her Devil Wears Prada co-star Emily Blunt, and it is clear that both these actresses keep this wonderful musical firmly rooted in brilliance. Blunt is absolutely amazing, delivering some quick witted lines and belting out some wonderful songs while Streep relishes the chance to play the blue haired vain and selfish Witch who is desperate to reclaim her lost beauty by reversing a curse placed on her. The Witch also incidentally holds her daughter Rapunzel played by Mackenzie Murzy hostage in a tower and much to her horror, has fallen for a young but clumsy prince played by the gorgeous newcomer Billy Magnussen.

Oscar nominee Johnny Depp who was spine chillingly excellent in another Sondheim musical film, Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street makes a brief appearance as the cross dressing wolf who terrorizes Little Red Riding Hood.

Even though Into The Woods is aimed at children, there are certainly slightly darker adult undertones to this extraordinary film as unlike the fairy tales, not everyone lives happily ever after. For those that enjoy expertly directed and acted big screen musicals, like Chicago, Les Miserables and Hairspray, then Into The Woods is definitely recommended viewing.

Stephen Sondheim’s Into The Woods is a truly imaginative, witty and fabulous fable sure to enchant both adults and children alike and as a stage production it would be equally extraordinary to watch.

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