Posts Tagged ‘Chris Messina’

Gotham’s Girl Power

Birds of Prey

Director: Cathy Yan

Cast: Margot Robbie, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Rosie Perez, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Ewan McGregor, Chris Messina, Ella Jay Basco

Oscar nominee Margot Robbie (I, Tonya; Bombshell) reprises her role as Harley Quinn the now ex-girlfriend of Joker whose character was first introduced in 2016’s Suicide Squad in a new standalone film called Birds of Prey which doesn’t unfortunately pack the same gender affirming punch as director Patty Jenkin’s groundbreaking film Wonder Woman.

Although both Birds of Prey, Suicide Squad and the Oscar winning Joker all fall under the Warner Brothers DC Comics franchise, Birds of Prey is not as brilliant as Wonder Woman but rather resorts to being too much of a garish man-hating super-hero film which doesn’t link back to Suicide Squad or even Justice League.

Birds of Prey features a suitably evil villain Roman Sionis devilishly played with camp enthusiasm by Scottish actor Ewan McGregor (Trainspotting, Moulin Rouge) along with his equally psychotic blonde haired side kick Victor Zsasz superbly played by Chris Messina (Argo, Live By Night)  who both go after Harley Quinn with a vengeance.

The crazy Harley Quinn soon teams up with a range of butt-kicking awesome females showing off Gotham’s Girl Power including hard drinking disgraced cop Renee Montaya wonderfully played by Oscar nominee Rosie Perez (Fearless), The Huntress played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Gemini Man, Kill the Messenger) whose alter ego is Helena Bartinelli who is the daughter of one of Gotham’s famed mob families and Jurnee Smollett-Bell as Dinah Lance aka Black Canary who betrays Roman after watching his misogynist treatment of women in his zany nightclub.

This gang of Gotham girls aim to protect a local thief Cassandra Cain played by Ella Jay Basco who purposefully swallowed a sought after diamond wanted by the mob.

Not evolving beyond being a garish fantasy piece without a solid storyline and inadequately directed by Cathy Yan, Birds of Prey aims to confuse the viewer more than actually help them identify with Harley Quinn as a crazy but lovable blonde villain.

Problematically, Birds of Prey was released in cinemas too soon after the absolutely brilliant Todd Phillips film Joker in which Joaquin Phoenix has just won his first Oscar award for Best Actor.

With an ultra-saturated Gotham, Birds of Prey should have spent more time in post-production or with some decent script rewrites especially considering that the main theme of the film seems to be that it’s alright for violent girls to kill boys or even vice versa. The action was tasteless and the setting was confusing.

Birds of Prey gets a film rating of 6.5 out of 10 and Margot Robbie should have known better than to do a questionable film version of Harley Quinn without a decent director and brilliant script on board. Even if there is a pet Hyena thrown in! Watch Birds of Prey at your own risk but it doesn’t touch the brilliance of Joker.

A Fallen World

Live By Night

Director: Ben Affleck

Cast: Ben Affleck, Sienna Miller, Chris Messina, Chris Cooper, Zoe Saldana, Elle Fanning, Brendan Gleeson, Remo Girone, Titus Welliver, Max Casella, Clark Gregg, Anthony Michael Hall

Oscar winner Ben Affleck (Argo, Good Will Hunting) approaches another passion project with the cinematic adaptation of Dennis Lehane’s riveting gangster novel Live By Night about the rise of Irish mobster Joe Coughlin.

Set in Prohibition era America in the mid 1920’s, Live By Night features Affleck as the main character as well as him adapting the screenplay and directing the film version. To his credit, Affleck assembles a fine cast including an unrecognizable Sienna Miller as the gangster’s moll with a strong Irish accent, Emma Gould who Coughlin first meets in Boston.

Also in the cast are Brendan Gleeson (In Bruges) as Coughlin’s father Thomas who happens to be Boston police chief, Oscar winner Chris Cooper (Adaptation) as Tampa police chief Figgis, Elle Fanning (Trumbo, Maleficent) in a stand out role as a recovering heroin addict Loretta Figgis and Zoe Saldana as Cuban beauty Graciela whom Coughlin eventually falls in love with after he moves to Tampa, Florida after fleeing Boston.

If viewers have not read Lehane’s book they might find the film version of Live By Night drawn out with a screenplay which delivers but doesn’t elevate the film to such genre classics as The Untouchables, Casino or even Goodfella’s.

Whilst the gorgeous period production design of Live By Night can be applauded as well as some stunning sequences in Florida, where after the initial gloom of Boston, the film definitely brightens to show a much more diverse and fascinating world in the deep South, the overall effect of Live By Night is laboured but not exhilarating.

Personally I loved the film, but I had read the novel so knew ahead what was install.

Ben Affleck’s ambitious plans to write, direct and star in a big screen adaptation of the novel might fall short, although his effort in doing so is admirable. What does elevate Live By Night are the superb supporting cast including Sienna Miller who after Burnt and Foxcatcher has an ability to disappear into any screen role and certainly is one of the most underrated actresses in Hollywood. Fanning as a bible preaching morally conflicted young woman comes across as sacrificial, yet her performance is brilliant despite the minimal screen time.

The best scenes in the film are between Affleck and Chris Messina who is wonderful as Coughlin’s best friend and crime partner, the wise cracking Dion Bartolo, a role which he played against type. It is refreshing to watch Zoe Saldana (Guardians of the Galaxy) play in a period film as the gorgeous Cuban business woman Graciela although her role in the film is not as detailed as it is in the novel.

What Affleck does successfully is portraying America as a Fallen World, where as prohibition ends, there is nothing left except repression, bigotry and violence. Live By Night is a gritty, stylish and violent gangster film similar to Gangster Squad but not as brilliant as Bugsy or Public Enemies.

Audiences should only see Live By Night if they are ardent fans of gangster films, a genre which is difficult to get right at the best of times. Despite Affleck’s talent as a director, he is no Martin Scorsese or Brian de Palma. Although his evocative visual efforts should be commended.

Recommended viewing for those that enjoyed Gangster Squad.

 

Theatre of the Absurd

ARGO

This is a fake film about a real escape

This is a fake film about a real escape

Ben Affleck suitably impressed the Hollywood Foreign Press with the brilliant socio-political thriller Argo which he deservedly  won the 2013 Golden Globe for best director but it was a travesty that he was not nominated for an Oscar for the 85th Academy Awards in the best director category for this tightly woven docu-drama about the Iranian hostage crisis spanning from 1979 to 1980.

Argo starts off with an almost picture book history of Iran up to the overthrow of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi in 1979 and the rise to power of the Ayatollah Khomeini which turned Iran from a Kingdom into an Islamic Republic. Amidst this cultural and fundamental Islamic revolution is a diplomatic crisis which stems from the Iranian revolutionaries storming the American Embassy in Tehran in November 1979 in reaction to the Shah seeking political asylum in the USA. Whilst the majority of the US citizens remain hostage, six escape and seek refuge in the Canadian ambassador’s house in suburban Tehran at the height of the Iranian Revolution

Back at CIA headquarters in Langley Virginia, Brian Cranston as Jack O’Donnell pulls in Tony Mendez played with a subtle strength by Affleck as an extraction specialist who comes up with a hair-brained scheme to rescue the six hostages in Tehran using the cover of a Canadian crew shooting a fake science fiction film in Iran. Enter Hollywood, where Mendez soon flies to L.A. and in a surprisingly limited time enlists the help of prosthetics expert John Chambers played by John Goodman and disgruntled and cynical veteran film director Lester Siegel superbly played by Alan Arkin to set up and promote the non-existent film Argo, taken from a trashy Sci-Fi script with a faintly Middle Eastern setting, almost like the planet Tattoine in Star Wars.

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Where Affleck as director excels so powerfully is his skilful cinematic combination of the ludicrous wealth and theatricality of Hollywood, especially presented in the wonderful Comicon press launch scene at the Beverley Hills Hilton  intercut with the real brutality and turmoil of the Islamic revolution where Tehran and Iran as a country in 1979 were experiencing a major political and socioeconomic coup aided by a vengeful revolutionary guard.

Escape from Tehran

It’s really the second half of Argo which is terrific entertainment and is a tense escape tale whereby Affleck’s character Mendez not willing to show the real strain he is under flies first to Istanbul and then into Tehran and with the assistance of the Canadian Ambassador skilfully extricates the six American hostages out of Tehran through a terrifying airport passport control sequence which for any international traveler is sure to bring back vivid memories. Along with a classified CIA mission, a bizarre ploy about shooting a sci-fi film in and around Tehran, Argo is a thought-provoking portrait of two vastly different societies connected only through a shared mesmerizing interest in a fake narrative in which they don’t fully grasp the realities yet, but recognize the antagonism associated with conflicting cultural ideologies. Much like earthlings sent to a distant planet!

Affleck’s triumph as director is that he never vilifies the Iranians and also does not succumb to much American glossy patriotism but accurately presents a bizarre tale of courage, tenacity and duplicity of international proportions and of the extraordinary lengths governments will go to protecting their own citizens in foreign diplomatic missions. Argo is helped by an excellent script by Chris Terrio and a suitably nerve-wracking original score by Alexandre Desplat who makes sure the pace of the film is maintained somewhere between terror and absurdity.

Argo is an engaging declassified tale of one man’s courage to protect his fellow countrymen in a hostile environment whilst maintaining an almost definitive sense of calm and fortitude. Kyle Chandler, Tate Donovan and Philip Baker Hall also star rounding off this highly recommended slice of late 1970’s historical drama in a similar and less violent vein than the German film The Baader Meinhof Complex.

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Pearls and Panache in the Kitchen…

Julie & Julia

 julie_and_julia_ver2

Nora Ephron’s latest film Julie & Julia – follows two separate but true stories about Julia Child rise to fame through French cuisine by surviving the McCarthy era in Paris learning Gourmet Cuisine and 50 years on, Julie Powell’s blog account of a year of cooking exquisite dishes from the famed recipe book that was Julia Child’s piece de resistance, Mastering the Art of French Cooking and how it got to be published in 1961.

Child having spent years in Paris with her diplomat husband, took up Gourmet cooking lessons and was determined to eventually introduce French cuisine to the American home.

While Ephron’s film should be treated as a comedy and a gastrononic delight it by no means rivals the brilliant Babette’s Feast or Chocolat. While films whose main subject is cuisine is always difficult to market, Ephron manages through a fairly quirky script to capture the two distinct eras that both her heroines lived in. Child and her husband had to deal with the McCarthy era, where everyone was treated with suspicion due to Communist paranoia sweeping America, not helped by their early years spent in China.

Juliet Powell and her husband Eric played by Chris Messina lead a less glamorous life across the pond, in Queens, New York where Powell sets herself a blogging and cooking deadline of a year to cook every recipe in Child’s bible on French cuisine as a way of distracting her from a call centre job dealing with the families and relatives of 9/11 in 2002.

While there was 50 years apart in their lives, both women were trying not to deal with the realities of a world that did not make sense.  And who could blame them? Post 9/11 New York and Post World War II Paris are vastly different, yet with some delicious recipes to lose themselves in, Julie and Julia proved that like any man, a woman can be just as determined, passionate and steadfast in their goals especially in achieving success, whether it be domestic or literary.

Julia Child's original kitchen

Julia Child’s original kitchen

Obliquely the film, also comments subtly on the rise of celebrity cult status and how historical references shape a characters lives so distinctly. Most notable are the wonderful shots of Paris and the diplomatic parties that Julia Child attends and eventually cooks for contrasting with a replica of her Cambridge, Massachusetts kitchen built especially for the tall woman she was, so elegantly displayed at the Smithsonian in Washington DC, where Julie eventually, like a worshiper at a sacred site, leaves a pound of butter as a fitting tribute to her gastronomic inspiration.

Julie & Julia is by far means not a brilliant film, but it will evoke an appetite for some superb, tangy and tantalizing gourmet dishes and give the audience a new appreciation of de-boning a duck, whilst wearing pearls in the kitchen and appearing relatively calm.

See it and enjoy the meals, yet its far from a cinematic feast, flawed with shoddy editing and uneven directing, whilst saved by a eclectic score by Alexandre Desplat who excelled in The Queen and of course by the ever versatile and brilliant Meryl Streep.

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