Posts Tagged ‘Jennifer Ehle’

Terror at the Algiers

Detroit

Director: Kathryn Bigelow

Cast: John Boyega, Will Poulter, Algee Smith, Jacob Latimore, Jack Reynor, Hannah Murray, Kaitlyn Dever, John Krasinski, Anthony Mackie, Ben O’Toole, Jennifer Ehle

Oscar winning director of The Hurt Locker, Kathryn Bigelow comes with an impressive resume of films including Zero Dark Thirty. In her latest film with screenwriting partner Mark Boal Detroit, they viscerally tackle police brutality and racial tension in Motown, once the centre for the American automobile industry.

Detroit features a cleverly cast group of emerging young actors including British stars John Boyega (Star Wars: The Force Awakens) and Will Poulter (The Revenant), while director Bigelow dissects in vivid and intense detail a murderous incident at the Algiers Motel on the night of the 25th July 1967.

Bigelow goes beyond racial polarities and cinematically retells a terrible incident whereby a young group of African American men were terrorized by White police men at the Algiers Motel headed by the sadistic Krauss excellently played by Will Poulter in one of his most prolific onscreen roles.

The group of African American singers headed up by Larry played by Algee Smith are equally traumatized by the lengthy incident when all they wanted to do was establish their singing group The Dramatics hoping to raise a similar celebrity status to The Supremes as they attempt to perform in downtown Detroit when a riot causes the show to be cancelled.

This was the Midwest in 1967. The American civil rights movement was in full swing as was the deployment of troops in the infamous war in Vietnam. American society was transforming exponentially.

Detroit is an extremely important film about visual identification and racial representation made pertinent by the ongoing debate about whether director Kathryn Bigelow as a white female director is the right person to be retelling the horrific Algiers incident whereby white policemen play the death game on the group of young African American men and taunt them because they are courting two young white prostitutes Julie played by Hannah Murray and Karen played by Kaitlyn Dever.

The three policemen responsible for the incident are Demens played by Jack Reynor (Macbeth, Sing Street), Flynn played by Ben O Toole (Hacksaw Ridge) and the aforementioned Krauss. John Boyega plays Dismukes a young African American man working two jobs one in a an automobile factory and the other as a night security guard who stumbles on the events at the Algiers when Carl played by Jason Mitchell shoots a toy gun at the National guard in the midst of inner city race riots.

What stood out in Detroit was how all the characters both Black and White are affected by a heightened level of inherent violence and male aggression, something which Bigelow highlights and Detroit suggests that this aggression is endemic in American society regardless of skin colour.

Framed against the incident is also the emotional story of Larry’s refusal after the event and subsequent trial to continue performing in The Dramatics at downtown nightspots where mostly white policeman can enjoy Motown music.

The racial signifiers in Detroit are complex but the narrative tension is brilliantly executed with a resonance and skill rarely seen in contemporary cinema. Detroit is an important film for everyone to watch, contributing to a cinematic study of race relations internationally and raises pertinent questions of visual representation.

Detroit gets a film rating of 8 out of 10. Highly recommended viewing for those that enjoy intelligently told docudramas about the turbulent 1960’s in America.

The Gardens of Versailles

A Little Chaos

a little_chaos

Director: Alan Rickman

Cast: Kate Winslet, Matthias Schoenaerts, Alan Rickman, Stanley Tucci, Jennifer Ehle, Helen McCrory, Steven Waddington, Rupert Penry-Jones

There is a growing trend for actors to get behind the camera and direct. Alan Rickman, the English actor who first appeared in Die Hard and then in The Harry Potter films, stars in and directs A Little Chaos, a charming and delightful tale about the ambitious construction of the Gardens of Versailles in the late 17th Century by King Louis XIV, wonderfully played by Rickman.

Oscar winner Kate Winslet (The Reader) stars a reluctant landscape gardener Sabine de Barra hired by the chief landscape architect Andre played by rising Belgian star Mathias Schoenaerts (Far From the Madding Crowd) who needs a suitable distraction away from his scheming wife  Madame Le Notre wonderfully played by Helen McCrory (Skyfall). Stanley Tucci as the Duc of Orleans (The Devil Wears Prada) and Jennifer Ehle (Possession, Contagion) as Madame de Montespan make brief appearances as the French king’s brother and mistress respectively.

A Little Chaos is a wonderful, if at times slow moving tale of how one woman recovers from a horrible tragedy to reinvent herself as one of the chief designers of the intricate water features which comprise the huge and illustrious Gardens of Versailles, which ultimately elevated landscape gardens to unimaginable heights.

There is a superb scene between Winslet and Rickman in a Pear Orchard where she comes across the French king mistaking him for a fruit expert and they soon bare their souls to each other and give very resonant reasons for wanting to embark on building such an elaborate project.

King Louis XIV’s pivotal decision to move the French court outside of Paris to Versailles was more a way of deepening  the chasm which separated the nobility from the peasantry. As the Duc of Orleans so comically puts it, Court is like a whole bunch of mice trapped in a castle, for none of the eligible nobility could leave the Palace without the King’s gracious permission.

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Naturally this divide was to become France’s ultimate toppling of the royalty a hundred years later as beautifully told in Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette.

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A Little Chaos is more about the machinations at court, the humble rise of a prominent and creative woman, who chose to take on a task in a man’s world, riddled with jealousy, doubt and deception. Kate Winslet adds a serenity to the role of de Barra  while Schoenaerts ‘s role as Andre le Notre is unfortunately underwritten to the film’s detriment, making their onscreen coupling less believable than it should be.

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As a film, A Little Chaos, could have had a firmer more visionary director, yet its very genteel subject matter that of gardening and love make up for the slightly inert narrative. As cinema goes, this film is no match for the brilliant Stephen Frears’s Oscar winning masterpiece Dangerous Liaisons but while it is less sophisticated and complex, A Little Chaos is pleasant and beautiful to watch.

Recommended viewing for those that love historical dramas without too much angst, yet appreciate the fascinating story behind the origins of the sumptuous Gardens of Versailles.

 

 

 

Illusion of Control

RoboCop

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Director: Jose Padilha

Cast: Joel Kinnaman, Abbie Cornish, Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton, Jennifer Ehle, Samuel L. Jackson, Jackie Earle Haley, Aimee Garcia

Brazilian director Jose Padilha imaginatively captures the essence of Robocop’s moral dilemma in the 21st century reboot of the popular 1987 cult hit Robocop, by blending a human story with that of greedy industrialists, partisan politics and a dash of media saturated parody.

Joel Kinnaman takes on the part of Detroit police Detective Alex Murphy who is blown apart in a car bomb and who is reassembled with the assistance of the sinister Omnicorp robotics corporation, a role that made actor Peter Weller famous in Dutch director Paul Verhoeven’s original film. Whilst Kinnaman’s Robocop does not require much acting beyond a couple of confused facial expressions, it’s really the supporting cast of Padilha’s version which do the film justice. Abbie Cornish is oddly cast as the confused yet betrayed wife Clara Murphy, Michael Keaton is brilliant as the greedy industrialist Raymond Sellars who wants to unleash part man part machine cyborgs onto the crime ridden streets of Detroit and then there is Gary Oldman as sympathetic Dr Dennett Norton who reconstructs the almost obliterated Detective Murphy into Robocop who has become more machine than human with the exception of a brain full of fluctuating dopamine levels.

What elevates Robocop from another popcorn sci-fi film are the superb special effects, the crisp editing and Padilha’s emphasis on media parody brilliantly done in the scenes with Samuel L. Jackson (Pulp Fiction) as the no nonsense TV presenter who frames the narrative in a series of audacious TV interviews in the ultra sophisticated show The Novak Element – a spoof of Piers Morgan Live and Sky News. Pro-robots TV presenter Pat Novak is wonderful  as a mechanism for blending parody and pastiche in a dystopian society where Omnicorp robots will eventually replace the existing police force of all American cities.

For as Robocop opens The Novak Element goes live to the streets of Tehran where robots are policing the local Iranian population but are not allowed onto American soil due to a political decision known as the Dreyfuss Act, banning robots on American streets. What Robocop is incisively commenting on is America’s controversial use of drones in foreign battlegrounds like Libya, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Michael Kenneth Williams plays Murphy’s partner on the corrupt Detroit police force and assists Robocop in tracking down the real criminals behind his attempted assassination. Like the original film, 2014’s Robocop is set in Detroit the home of motor manufacturing but in recent years also one of the only American cities to file for bankruptcy after the 2008 recession due to corruption, maladministration and urban decay. Yet in this version, Detroit looks like a city on the mend especially with the establishment of the Omnicorp headquarters, which become Robocop’s ultimate nemesis.

As with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein where the mad scientist creates a monster who in turn, attacks his creator, there is this thematic twist of an illusion of control. In Robocop, the recreated ruthless part man/part machine turns on the company which created him, especially Sellars who only sees the hybrid cyborg as a money making product to be marketed by Omnicorp to other American cities in the proposed interests of crime prevention despite the ethical protests of Dr Norton, a rather softened Gary Oldman (The Fifth Element).

Jackie Earle Haley (Little Children) plays Omnicorps muscle Rick Mattox who is eager to test Robocop’s combat abilities in a simulated combat environment. Other stars include Jennifer Ehle (Contagion) Jay Baruchel as Omnicorp relentless marketing man and Marianne Jean-Baptiste (Secret and Lies) as Police Chief Karen Dean helping rounding off a solid cast to compliment the purposefully wooden Kinnaman.

What makes the 21st century Robocop so stylish, is Padilha’s slick direction from the aerial shots of a Detroit skyline to the mind blowing special effects to the crime reconstruction sequence by Robocop/Alex Murphy in his suburban driveway. Robocop along with some brilliant action sequences, a cool slate grey body armour suit, becomes an antihero and the films chillingly predictive narrative arc is punctuated by some human conflict in terms of his family and loads of media hype with the parody infused TV show The Novak Element.  As a film, Robocop is an entertaining, provocative and enjoyable sci-fi thriller which points to an impressive and marketable finished product, much like its anti-hero.

2010 Toronto Film Festival

2010 Toronto International Film Festival Winners

TIFF 2010

Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) takes place every year in September in Toronto, Canada.

Films which premiere at Toronto are often nominated for Academy Awards the following year.

TIFF does not hand out individual prizes for Best Actor or Actress but focuses on amongst others the following awards:
People’s Choice Award & Best Canadian Feature Film

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Opening Night Film: Score, A Hockey Musical directed by Michael McGowan starring Nelly Furtado, Olivia Newton-John, Stephen McHattie & Noah Reid

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People Choice Award: The King’s Speech directed by Tom Hooper starring Colin Firth, Helena Bonham Carter, Geoffrey Rush, Guy Pierce, Derek Jacobi, Jennifer Ehle

Incendies

Best Canadian Feature Film: Incendies directed by Denis Villeneuve starring , &

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2010_Toronto_International_Film_Festival

 

Timeline of Terror

Zero Dark Thirty

Superb Tradecraft

Superb Tradecraft

Oscar winning director Kathryn Bigelow’s brilliant yet riveting film Zero Dark Thirty is a masterful film, held together by a central performance by Jessica Chastain as CIA Intelligence Operative Maya and a superb script by Mark Boal, who also collaborated with Bigelow on the equally impressive The Hurt Locker.

This complex film opens with the flight recordings of the United 93 plane that crashed in Pennsylvania during the September 2001 US Terror attacks sparking an obsessive and frustrating hunt for the Al Qaeda mastermind Osama Bin Laden by the CIA and specifically Maya initially from the hostile environment of Pakistan then based at the CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. The narrative charts a veritable timeline of terror that has characterized the first decade of the 21st century, from 9/11 to the London Transport bombings in July 2005, to the Marriott Hotel bombing in Islamabad in September 2008 to the suicide bombing at the American military base, Camp Chapman in Khost, Afghanistan in December 2009.

Zero Dark Thirty is a brilliant spy thriller and unlike Argo, is deadly serious in every respect and is grounded in much historical research and investigative journalism, noted in the detailed script by Mark Boal. As in The Hurt Locker, Bigelow once again casts her central character in a completely hostile and extremely dangerous environment and the petite Maya as the tenacious CIA operative who skilfully leads the hunt for and final execution of Al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden, the mastermind behind many international terrorist attacks, most notably 9/11 and the 2005 London bombings.

1 SHEET MASTER

Bigelow as a director takes on a larger canvas than in the Iraq War in The Hurt Locker and shows that the decade long hunt for America’s most wanted enemy was an international affair from Pakistan to Poland to Kuwait involving CIA black sites, detailed surveillance and lots of political wrangling.

Tradecraft

A notable narrative shift is from the film’s first half set under the Bush administration where torture, rendition and revenge were the CIA’s chief instruments of capturing Al Qaeda terrorists to the second half set after November 2008 under the Obama administration where detailed surveillance, dedication and  almost positive certainty of terrorist tradecraft which ultimately lead to the riveting  elimination of Osama Bin Laden at a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan in May 2011, Zero Dark Thirty is deadpan in its presentation of one nations hunt for a master terrorist and the extraordinary sacrifice and lengths these CIA operatives went to in finally achieving their goal.

Jessica Chastain performance is simply superb and has already garnered a 2013 Golden Globe Award and truly shows her talent and diversity in the role of Maya but also points to Kathryn Bigelow ability  to bring out the best performance ever in her leading actors, as was the case with Jeremy Renner in The Hurt Locker. The final sequence involving the storming of the Abbottabad compound, believed to be Bin Ladin’s hideout by elite American soldiers is truly nerve-wracking cinema, shot with Bigelow’s trademark directorial detachment cut through with absolute documentary styled realism.

Zero Dark Thirty has a great supporting cast including Jason Clarke as the CIA torturer Dan, Kyle Chandler as CIA Pakistan operations chief Joseph Bradley along with Mark Strong, Jennifer Ehle and James Gandolfini, but it is really Chastain’s obsessive portrayal of CIA Operative Maya, a woman battling to gain respect in a male dominated espionage arena, that shows her true talent. The pace of Zero Dark Thirty is fast and yet measured enough to show the time involved assisted by an original score by Alexandre Desplat and with cutting edge sound editing, the audience is immediately immersed in a deeply fascinating portrait of America’s covert hunt for that nation’s Enemy Number One. Highly Recommended and definitely Oscar worthy.

Fear as a Virus

Contagion

Contagion

Steven Soderbergh’s gripping medical thriller Contagion follows a similar non-linear structure to his previous Oscar winning film Traffic about the US-Mexican drug trade and features a brilliant cast including Oscar Winners Gwyneth Paltrow, Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Marion Cotillard and Oscar Nominees Jude Law and Laurence Fishburne.

With a fantastic musical score by Cliff Martinez, Contagion is a horrifying look out how a highly contagious immunodefiency-virus spreads like wild fire around the world from Macau to Atlanta, from Hong Kong to London through any form of human contact especially in the ease of frequent international travel.

The deadly effects of the virus and how the world population reacts to the onset of a disease so deadly that it threatens the survival of the human race is at the core of Contagion. While the ensemble cast are superb, it is Jennifer Ehle as Dr Ally Hextall in an unusually prolific role, previously seen in Wilde, Pride and Glory and Possession who shines as a scientist who races to develop a vaccine to prevent the spread of the rapidly complex and mutating virus.

The always suave Laurence Fishburne plays Dr Ellis Cheever, Head of the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta and Jude Law features as a conspiracy theorist Alan Krumweide who while in San Francisco tracks the virus online and also how the pharmaceutical industry makes a fortune once a vaccine is developed.

Contagion is a scary and provocative film and raises serious questions about the survival of the fittest and the ethics of managing disease control in light of a deep preservation for continued existence of the human race. Viewers will definitely be washing their hands several times after seeing this absorbing thriller especially the pivotal and brilliant final scene. Whether it be drugs or a virus, both Traffic and Contagion deal with issues of control and the distribution of power in society and the effects of a debilitating affliction that knows no boundaries. Recommended viewing.

Transforming a Future King

The King’s Speech

In the age of radio and the approaching storm clouds of World War II, King George VI takes over the British throne after his elder brother King Edward VIII abdicates in favour of marrying American divorcee Wallis Simpson. Tom Hooper’s superb drama The King’s Speech is remarkable in the three central performances by the fantastic Colin Firth as King George VI, Helena Bonham Carter as his wife Queen Elizabeth and Geoffrey Rush as an exuberant and unorthodox speech therapist, Lionel Logue. Coupled with a brilliant score by Alexandre Desplat who did the music for Stephen Frears’s drama The Queen and using an evocative and almost gloomy backdrop of post-depression London, The King’s Speech is a film that deftly combines the historical enormity of the abdication crisis and the approaching war, with a far more personal affliction of a reluctant King who has suffered since childhood with a terrible speech impediment.

In the intelligently scripted scenes, written with panache by David Siedler between Lionel and Bertie as King George VI was known, Siedler portrays an unconventional Antipodean speech therapist who recognizes the potential of a prickly nobleman destined to become a great King and gives him back the confidence to rule a nation at a time of immense uncertainty. Geoffrey Rush and Colin Firth are in top form as commoner unleashing the potential of a King and slowly uncovering the psychological stumbling blocks associated with such a speech disability as a Prince suffering the effects of a strict Victorian upbringing and weighted with the destiny of being 2nd in line to the British Throne.


Director Tom Hooper not only shows the historical developments of late 1930s Britain but also the rapid and transforming power of radio and the potential of this new medium to address all corners of the then expansive colonial Empire. Much was at stake for Bertie to conquer his affliction and give Britain and its colonies hope and inspire confidence through the power of radio as the storm clouds gathered with the rapid brutal expansion of the Third Reich, culminating in the outbreak of World War II in September 1939.

The Kings Speech is funny, immensely moving and by far the best film about the British Monarchy to be made in recent years and can stand proudly as a companion to such classics as The Madness of King George and The Queen.

The Kings’ Speech is just the right vehicle to recapture the imagination of audiences worldwide to the powerful allure and the enduring reign of the British monarchy. Colin Firth deserves all the accolades already heaped on him for his subtle and multi-layered performance as Bertie and is supported brilliantly by Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter along with stolid cameos by Michael Gambon as the patriarchal King George V and Claire Bloom as the stoical Queen Mary.

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