Posts Tagged ‘Boyd Holbrook’

The Great Western Claw Slinger

Logan

Director: James Mangold

Cast: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Dafne Keen, Boyd Holbrook, Stephen Merchant, Richard E. Grant, Eriq La Salle, Elizabeth Rodriguez

Oscar nominee Hugh Jackman (Les Miserables) has become synonymous with the role of the mutant Wolverine since Bryan Singer’s first film The X Men back in 2000. Now seventeen years later, Jackman reprises his role in director James Mangold’s cleverly titled Logan a sort of follow up to The Wolverine back in 2013.

The year is 2029 and there appears to be an absence of mutants on Earth, an arid planet ravaged by decades of global warming. Mangold who directed the tense Western 3:10 to Yuma seamlessly blends frontier mythology into Logan right from the beginning as audiences first see Logan aka The Wolverine in El Paso, Texas as a washed up middle aged Uber limo driver, all hairy and hard to like.

Logan is taking care of a frail and delusional yet still powerful Charles Xavier, a brilliant performance by Patrick Stewart, who has reprised his role in most of the X-Men movies.

Xavier keeps telling Logan that there is still one more powerful mutant out there. In a desperate call for help, Logan gets called to the shady motel room of Mexican immigrant Gabriela played by Orange is the New Black star Elizabeth Rodriguez who pleads with him to take the mysterious young girl Laura wonderfully played with an immense screen intensity by newcomer Dafne Keen to Canada for safety.

Soon X-Men adversary Donald Pierce and his band of nefarious gang members appear intent on hunting and killing Laura. Pierce, played by Boyd Holbrook (Gone Girl, The Skeleton Twins) is actually the henchman of mastermind Dr Rice wonderfully played by Richard E. Grant (Jackie, The Iron Lady) who unbeknownst to anyone has been harvesting mutant children in a dodgy clinic in Mexico City.

As Logan, Laura and Xavier head off across country from El Paso through to Oklahoma City, screenwriters Scott Frank, James Mangold and Michael Green turn Logan into a Neo-Western road film, a more gritty adventure even referencing some classic Western films like director George Stevens 1953 film Shane and unlike the more CGI orientated X-Men films, Logan is more violent, nostalgic and resonates with a more mature audience. That predominately male audience is presumably the same viewers that started following The X-Men films back in 2000.

Jackman is suitably tough, menacing and conflicted as Logan and Dafne Keen who swops between Spanish and English is wonderful as the bratty teenage mutant, but what really gives Logan that gravitas is Patrick Stewart’s superbly dry performance as Xavier, once head of the school for mutants, but now a bitter and twisted old man being hunted by some evil cloners.

Logan is highly enjoyable and delivers on the action front with some stunning and violent action sequences especially in the first half of the film. However, the last quarter of the film could have been edited for dramatic effect despite the surprisingly poignant ending.

Walk the Line director James Mangold’s Logan gets a film rating of 7.5 out of 10. Ultimately, the return of the hairy man aka The Wolverine has past his macho prime, yet his ferocious decline is highly entertaining viewing.

 

Suicidal Tendencies

The Skeleton Twins

skeleton_twins

Director: Craig Johnson

Cast: Kristen Wiig, Bill Hader, Luke Wilson, Ty Burrell, Boyd Holbrook, Joanna Gleason

Milo decides that life is too much for him and writes a rather lame suicide note, then switching the music up, intends on slitting his wrists in a hot bath. Very melodramatic!

So begins director Craig Johnson poignant and brilliantly acted film, The Skeleton Twins, which whilst dealing with serious issues such as teenage trauma, abuse, suicide and adultery, transforms into a polished film with a sparkling on screen chemistry between twins Milo, a gay slightly hysterical but very witty guy and his confused and equally emotionally messed up sibling Maggie, wonderfully played by Kristen Wiig (Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues).

It is this pure onscreen energy between Wiig and the hilarious Bill Hader who both make The Skeleton Twins so watchable, their angst so believable and the narrative arc of their characters so credible. With a superb script by Craig Johnson and Mark Heyman of Black Swan fame, The Skeleton Twins delves into a serious messed up and slightly kooky sibling relationship, not to mention rivalry based on emotional blackmail and a prickly sense of childhood abandonment which haunts the twins.

Milo after his unsuccessful suicide attempt has to be looked after by his twin sister Marg, (Kristen Wiig) and so he enters into a seemingly stable dynamic of middle class suburbia and discrupts all relationship surrounding him both intentionally and in that sort of bitchy way, which only a failed gay actor could do. Mainly the relationship between Maggie and her husband, Lance, a real macho man played by Luke Wilson is certainly dicey as they are trying to get pregnant. Except that Maggie has fallen for her Australian scuba diving instructor Billy played by Boyd Holbrook (Milk, Gone Girl).

Even the entrance of their mother, a Colorado spiritualist, played by Joanna Gleeson (Last Vegas) does little to disperse the shimmering tensions and anxiety between the twins.

All the drama and so called skeletons come out on Halloween as Maggie discovers the real reason why Milo is happily ensconced with her and Lance in middle class suburbia, while Milo, in full drag, forces his sister to confront the childhood trauma of their father’s suicide which is alluded to by shots of skeleton key rings falling to the bottom of a swimming pool.

The Skeleton Twins is a witty, sassy and cleverly plotted film, expertly directed by Johnson and superbly acted by Wiig and Hader, whose previous professional comic collaboration on Saturday Night Live clearly shines through. Highly recommended viewing as an intelligent comedy drama in the vein of Juno, Little Miss Sunshine and The Perks of Being a Wallflower.

Amazing Amy…

Gone Girl

gone_girl_ver2

Director: David Fincher

Cast: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris, Kim Dickens, Carrie Coon, Tyler Perry, Scoot McNairy, Missi Pyle, Lisa Banes, Patrick Fugit, Sela Ward, Lola Kirke

Zodiac, Seven and The Social Network director David Fincher brings to cinematic life the Gillian Flynn novel Gone Girl in an intoxicating style with superb performances by Ben Affleck (Argo, Hollywoodland) and Rosamund Pike (Jack Reacher, Pride and Prejudice) as Nick and Amy Dunne.

The Dunne’s seemingly perfect American suburban marriage is deconstructed under acute media scrutiny when Amy Dunne goes missing from their home in North Carthage, Missouri on their fifth wedding anniversary. Initially a break in is suspected. Then possibly a murder…

As the town of North Carthage gathers around to search for the elusive Amy, Fincher in a series of flashbacks gives a deceptive back story to the Dunne’s marriage, an American relationship come undone by the effects of the 2008 financial recession. As the couple leave their hip lifestyles in New York and move back to the Mid-West, it is revealed that Amy was the source of a series of children’s books Amazing Amy which her parents profited hugely off, making her the enviable product of a million dollar trust fund.

Amy Dunne is beautiful, gorgeous and has a range of creepy admirers. Being an only child, and now a missing woman, Amy is an enigma and her husband Nick Dunne, the suave charming fortyish hunk naturally becomes the main suspect.

Gone Girl in the tradition of The Jagged Edge is a manipulative and expertly directed thriller with Fincher extracting the most he can from his two leading performers, whilst simultaneously commenting on the current invasive trend of intense media scrutiny which defines American culture, made worse by reality TV, the internet and the cult of celebrity.

This form of media scrutiny has permeated all aspects of American culture and indeed influenced the contemporary world. Just analyze the media circus surrounding the current trials of Oscar Pistorius and Shrien Dewani in South Africa as an example.

Gone Girl is as much an indictment of the current state of news media, as a stylish and slightly comical look at a disappearance which begs more questions than answers, a story of a couple whose lives are torn apart by the media due to an event which is as deceptive as it is real.

Fincher assembles an eclectic supporting cast including comedian Tyler Perry as Tanner Bolt a notorious defence attorney, Sela Ward as an investigative talk show host Sharon Schieber along with Kim Dickens as a small town detective Rhonda Baney who is trying to make a break in an extremely puzzling case. Then there is also Neil Patrick Harris as Desi Collings a suitably creepy school friend of Amy’s.

girl_with_the_dragon_tattoo

What makes Gone Girl so utterly superb is the extraordinary talents of Rosamund Pike, who really sinks her teeth into the complex role of Amy Dunne. That’s another of Fincher’s directorial gifts, he always gets the lead actress to deliver exceptional performances like what Rooney Mara did in the Oscar Nominated Swedish thriller The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.

This is by far Rosamund Pike’s best screen performance and will certainly elevate her onto the A-List of Hollywood actresses. She sizzles in this role and along with a duplicitous performance by Ben Affleck, who both make Gone Girl a truly superior adult thriller, whose narrative tension and plot twists rests solely on the acting of these two brilliant stars.

Gone Girl is must see viewing, a provocative thriller, a deconstruction of a marriage, an indictment of the ever widening dichotomy between truth and fabrication. Highly recommended.

 

 

 

Activism and Martyrdom

Milk

directed by

Gus van Sant

The article below was prepared for a film workshop and discussion of Milk held at the inaugural Durban Gay and Lesbian Film Festival November 2011.

“My name is Harvey Milk and I want to recruit you”.

 

Political Activist, Martyr and lover of Opera

These words were used at a speech Milk made on the San Francisco City Hall steps as an elected city supervisor at the Gay Freedom Day Parade on the 25th June 1978 four months before being assassinated. This scene in Gus Van Sant’s film is critical to the viewing of Milk as not just as a film about the Gay rights movement in America, but a film about civil rights and the fight for protection against bigotry and the preservation of individual freedoms which should be enshrined in any democracy.
Milk was an activist for Gay rights and for human rights and he galvanized the communities of Castro Street in the Eureka Valley and also the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco for the protection of civil liberties. Milk was also the first openly gay man to be elected to an official position in a major metropolitan American city. He was a south-African equivalent of an Executive councillor and not merely a ward councillor.

Historically any political movement with a strong base of supporters, martyrdom works. There are examples of martyrs in a range of socio-political movements worldwide from Gandhi to Martin Luther King, to Ruth First. Milk knew of the risks he was taking as an openly gay supervisor who was ready to engage in public debate at a time when the gay rights movement was blossoming along the American West Coast.

Milk was ready to die for his beliefs and was already casting himself in the role of a martyr – he persevered in the face of constant death threats. He challenged opposing viewpoints which were mostly grounded in the form of religious bigotry and parochial conservatism crystallized in the form of Florida religion fanatic Anita Bryant and Californian Republican Senator John Briggs.

Milk stood up for what was right at a particular moment in a historical context which reflected the aftermath of the sexual revolution of the 1960s, and followed on from similar social political movements in America most notably the civil rights movement of the 1960s and the anti-war demonstrations of the late 60s and early 70s (notably about the Vietnam war). Harvey Milk was a skilled political activist and knew how to mobilise his supporters effectively.
Milk’s challenge to gay and lesbian people in America was this – We have to let them know who we are. You have to be open about your sexuality. He was the political version of the current crop of Hollywood stars and singers who are breaking through the glass closet Zachary Quinto and Ricky Martin, David Hyde Pearce, Neil Patrick Harris.

As a film, Milk was hugely successful for 3 reasons –
1) Director Gus van Sant is an openly gay director and has touched on homosexuality in his previous films, My Own Private Idaho and his award winning film Elephant.
2)  The screenwriter Dustin Lance Black who won an Oscar for best adapted screenplay was openly gay.
3) Milk as a film was researched and had the input of surviving members of the Gay rights movement of the 1970s notably the influential Cleve Jones, played by Emile Hirsch in the film, Milk was shot in all the actual locations in and around San Francisco, notably the City Hall and Castro Street neighbourhood. Van Sant encouraged all the actors to improvise in their characters in the authentic locations they were shooting in. Seasoned actor, Sean Penn’s performance of Harvey Milk is exceptionally brilliant, notably winning him a 2nd Best Actor Award.

There is a moment in Milk when Harvey is delivering the recruitment speech at Gay Freedom Parade that this biopic transcends the boundaries of being just a film about gay rights, but a film about justifiable civil rights. Ironically the call for recruitment sounds very similar to Uncle Sam calling for new army recruits to the US military. Gay people came to San Francisco from small towns across America and the gay community swelled after the end of World War 2 when many closeted military men disembarked at San Francisco after returning from the Pacific theatre of War and remained in the city, not obviously keen to return to conservative mid-Western towns.

Viewing Milk in a South African context

South Africa is an intensely political society and as a new democracy which has enshrined the rights of every individual by having one of the most liberal constitutions, gay people are protected by the constitution but is there an adequate justice system to enforce the civil liberties of gay people in SA. This point is made in Milk in the 70s when gay men are beaten up and victimised by SF police officers in the film. Even though gay rights are enshrined in the South African constitution and discrimination based on sexual orientation is forbidden, does the South African police force adequately uphold these rights in contemporary society? In terms of Gay Pride marches worldwide from Sao Paulo to Warsaw – the role of the police as both protector and persecutor is brilliantly explored in the documentary Beyond Gay: the Politics of Pride.

Best line in the film – “I sound like a homosexual with Power” – from being marginalised to being politicized that was the legacy that Harvey Milk gave to the American and the international gay rights movement.
Harvey Milk was a quintessential Gay politician who only served in office for one year but his impact on social change and his symbol as a martyr for the gay rights movement in America and internationally is huge. Milk was 40 years old when he first came out the closet and started living as an openly gay man.
The character of Dan White played by Josh Brolin in Milk represents a complete dichotomy from Harvey Milk. White was also a fellow city supervisor from a strong Irish Catholic neighbourhood who was concerned more with supporting a family on a municipal salary than supporting any of Harvey Milk or Mayor George Moscone’s liberal city ordinances. Dan White viewed Harvey Milk as a threat and he acted upon that threat, whereas Milk underestimated the danger of Dan White as a potential enemy. The last quarter of the film, there is a sense that Milk had almost become cavalier with his political power despite receiving numerous death threats. Milk was willing to become a martyr and for the cause, often remarking that politics was theatre.

Politics is Theatre

Politics is theatre except the scripts are different, but there remain the stars even they become legends as martyrs.

Van Sant skilfully shows not just the extent of the Milk’s activism but also his passion for the gay rights cause at the immense cost of his personal life and safety. The film beautifully reconstructs the fateful events leading up to Milk’s assassination and the truly poignant ending of Harvey Milk being heralded as a martyr by the community he served and adored. Milk is more about Martyrdom and Activism in a socio-political movement in the 1970s and the call for equal civil rights for gays and all other minorities.

Today in San Francisco there are convention centres, streets and public institutions named after slain City Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone. Corner of Castro and Market Street in Eureka Valley is now called Harvey Milk Plaza.
The immortalization of martyrs for a cause is not new in any political movement and is especially significant in the current SA political context with conference centres, highways and streets being renamed after struggle heroes against Apartheid more appropriately in cities such as Durban and Johannesburg.

Proposition 6 as put forward by Californian Senator Briggs was legislation that allowed the California state to discriminate against employees in this case teachers on the basis of sexual orientation. Milk’s biggest triumph was getting the gay communities and the broader society to vote against the implementation of proposition 6.
Irony is that Gay Marriage in America as a federal law is still banned. Only several US states have passed legislation allowing gay marriage to date including Vermont.
Proposition 8 (ballot title: Eliminates Rights of Same-Sex Couples to Marry. Initiative Constitutional Amendment; called California Marriage Protection Act by proponents) was a ballot proposition and constitutional amendment passed in the November 2008 state elections. The measure added a new provision, Section 7.5 of the Declaration of Rights, to the California Constitution, which provides that “only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.” – Wikipedia source.
Innovative film style of Gus Van Sant –Van Sant’s visual style is unique from extreme close-ups highlighting the intimacy of the characters to showcasing the broad political activism that Milk did to galvanize and protect the gay community in San Francisco in the 1970’s. Political activism involved taking over a block then a neighbourhood and gaining support and credence for specific municipal issues.
Suggested Reading and Viewing: ~
Biography: The Mayor of Castro Street: The Life & Times of Harvey Milk by Randy Shilts
Documentary: Beyond Gay: The Politics of Pride by Bob Christie

 

A Fine and Fabulous Portrayal

milk

The brilliant film Milk is recommended not so much for its excellent coverage of political mobilization but more for Sean Penn’s superb and heartfelt portrayal of Harvey Milk. Of course there are those seventies fashions, James Franco skinny dipping and the wonderfully coy Emile Hirsh. Well worth the viewing.

If viewers loved director Gus Van Sant’s earlier works including My Own Private Idaho, Drugstore Cowboy and Elephant, then this film is up there with Gus Van Sant’s original masterpieces.

There is a detailed analysis of Milk under the title Activism and Martyrdom http://www.davidrwalker.co.za/2011/11/milk/ in a comprehensive article praising the merits of this film as a biography and a moving portrait of the Gay Rights Movement in America.

Milk also stars James Franco, Diego Luna, Emile Hirsch, Alison Pill and a fine supporting performance by Josh Brolin as supervisor Dan White.

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