Posts Tagged ‘Michael Sheen’

Discovering Aurora

Passengers

Director: Morten Tyldum

Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Chris Pratt, Michael Sheen, Laurence Fishburne, Andy Garcia

It’s hard to believe that after the success of the Oscar nominated biographical film about Alan Turing, The Imitation Game, that Norwegian director Morten Tyldum would follow up with a sci-fi metaphorical film Passengers which doesn’t quite elevate to a meaningful story despite its sexy wholesome stars.

Oscar winner Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook) and Hollywood’s new kid on the block, Chris Pratt (Jurassic World, The Magnificent Seven) are basically the only two actors in Passengers which focuses on a luxurious space craft heading to a distant colony for space colonization only for the couple to awaken 90 years before their projected arrival at the planet aptly named Homestead.

Pratt who was so humorous in Guardians in the Galaxy, battles to keep a straight face as the mechanic from Colorado Jim Preston who realizes that himself and Aurora Lane, wonderfully played by a gorgeous Blonde Jennifer Lawrence are awake in a vast rotating space cruiser with only a smartly dressed android for company, the eloquent Arthur superbly played by Michael Sheen (The Queen, Midnight in Paris).

What saves Passengers from utter tedium is the brilliant visual effects and pristine cinematography by Rodrigo Prieto along with sleek production design by Guy Hendrix-Dyas who worked on such films as Alejandro Amenabar’s Agora and Christopher Nolan’s visually astounding film Inception.

The best scene in the film is when the space ship suddenly loses gravity and catches Aurora stuck inside a water bubble while she is swimming in an infinity pool which overlooks the infinite galaxy.

Jennifer Lawrence looks suitably panic stricken throughout Passengers mainly because she is so used to working with other actors in ensemble films like American Hustle and Joy. In Passengers, all she has to work with is Pratt who doesn’t yet have the gravitas to pull off a major role on his own with one other actor.

Passengers is gorgeous to look at but the narrative centre of the film does not hold and one would have hoped for a more fascinating turn of events than a spaceship breaking down. Let’s face it that has been done before with more sinister effects. Oscar Nominee Laurence Fishburne plays Gus Mancuso who has such a small part along with Andy Garcia who only briefly appears at the end of the film, without uttering a word.

Unlike Alfonso Cuaron’s brilliant Oscar winning film Gravity, Passengers does not really get off the ground emotionally and whilst any film with only two actors in it is really difficult to pull off, it is even more so when the storyline is so lacklustre. At least Gravity had riveting visual effects and superb acting from both George Clooney and Sandra Bullock.

Passengers needed a far more effective twist to elevate the narrative out of a 21st century metaphorical tale about Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. One thing is for sure, director Tyldum does make a valid point that humans should not entirely place all their trust in machines. Just look what happened in Terminator. Viewers should judge for themselves.

 

Time is on our Side

Alice Through the Looking Glass

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Director: James Bobin

Cast: Mia Waskowska, Johnny Depp, Anne Hathaway, Helena Bonham Carter, Sacha Baron Cohen, Lindsay Duncan, Rhys Ifans, Stephen Fry, Timothy Spall, Michael Sheen, Richard Armitage, Andrew Scott, Alan Rickman

Contrary to popular belief the author of Alice Through the Looking Glass was not high on drugs although the latest film version by James Bobin seems to suggest otherwise. Victorian author Lewis Carroll was prone to doses of Laudanum but certainly not to hallucinations due to any mind altering drugs. Carroll whose real name was Charles Lutwidge Dawson did hang out with the Pre-Raphaelites and obviously possessed a vivid imagination.

Following the immense success of director Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland in 2010, Alice Through the Looking Glass fortunately reassembles the same cast with a much larger part for Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter.

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Additions to the new film, include British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen (Hugo, Borat, The Dictator) as Father Time and Rhys Ifans (Notting Hill) as the misplaced father of the Mad Hatter, Zanik Hightopp.

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Mia Wasikowska reprises her role as Alice Kingsleigh and Lindsay Duncan (Birdman) stars as her mother Helen Kingsleigh.

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Visually, Alice Though the Looking Glass is a real treat, a sublime and whimsical journey into a fantasy world in which Alice must travel through time and a looking glass and not only battle Father Time but the evil Red Queen of Hearts, wonderfully played again by Helena Bonham Carter.

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This time the evil Queen seeks vengeance upon her sister Mirana, played with virginal innocence by Anne Hathaway, plunging Wonderland into chaos as the Queen of Hearts against the warnings of Father Time, confronts a past version of herself, a jealous little girl who was blamed for her sister’s naughty tricks of stealing tarts.

Whilst Alice Through The looking Glass will certainly appeal to a younger female audience, its themes are certainly of an adult nature – never regret the past, never try and take revenge on your family and most importantly always strive for what is your rightful inheritance. Mia Wasikowa is utterly believable as the headstrong Alice who in the prologue of the film is battling to save her late father’s ship from being taken away by greedy Victorian creditors.

Alice Through the Looking Glass, despite some big names in the cast is a brilliant ensemble piece, beautifully told and superbly directed by James Bobin under the guidance of Tim Burton.

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Naturally Depp is completely whacky and delightful as the incorrigible mad hatter, but it’s really Sacha Baron Cohen who steals the show as the ubiquitous Father Time who proves that time is really on our side, despite the proverbial warning.

This rewarding sequel is fun, visually fantastic and highly recommended viewing, a whimsical journey through the looking glass into a parallel universe in which time paradoxically becomes an embodiment of both past regrets and future reconciliations.

Rivals for her Affection

Far From the Madding Crowd

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Director: Thomas Vinterberg

Cast: Carey Mulligan, Michael Sheen, Tom Sturridge, Juno Temple, Matthias Schoenaerts, Bradley Hall, Jessica Barden

Danish director Thomas Vinterberg who gained international attention with his Oscar Nominated film The Hunt, takes on a cinematic adaptation of the 19th century classic Thomas Hardy novel Far From the Madding Crowd and what a superb piece of cinema it is.

The high production values and the crackling onscreen energy between Carey Mulligan who plays the headstrong heroine Bathsheba Everdene and the handsome yet rugged farm manager Gabriel Oak is played by Belgian rising star Matthais Schoenaerts who both make this film captivating.

At the centre of Thomas Hardy’s novel was a rather unconventional idea for its time that of a female heroine taking charge of a large farm in rural Dorset in the 1870’s. Far From the Madding Crowd published in 1874 at the height of the Victorian era become an instant classic and since the twentieth century has been turned into many cinematic adaptations most notably the 1967 classic film of the same name with Julie Christie, Peter Finch, Alan Bates and Terence Stamp as well as a modern day variation Tamara Drewe (2010) with Gemma Arterton, Luke Evans and Dominic Cooper.

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Vinterberg’s version of Far From the Madding Crowd is a handsomely produced, exceptionally acted and beautifully shot in which he extracts genuine performances out of Mulligan and Schoenaerts along with the rest of the supporting cast including Michael Sheen (The Queen), as the prosperous bachelor William Boldwood and the audacious and reckless Sergeant Troy, played with a sort of hint of danger by Tom Sturridge (Being Julia and On the Road). Even Juno Temple as the befallen young damsel, Fanny Robbin is equally good.

What elevates Vinterberg’s film is an intelligent screenplay by David Nicholls and sumptuous cinematography by Charlotte Bruus Christensen together with wonderful costumes by Janet Paterson. Shot mainly in Buckinghamshire, Far From The Madding Crowd will be sure to illicit a renewed interest in Hardy’s novels and especially in the many film adaptations of his work including the 1979 film Tess directed by Roman Polanski featuring Nastassja Kinski.

Bathsheba has to deal with the business of running a farm, which was naturally male dominated as well as warding off possible suitors from the likes of Boldwood and the arrogant Sergeant Troy, whilst her sturdy farm manager, Gabriel Oak, remains loyal to her even when she makes mistakes. The ending of Far From the Madding Crowd is truly sublime and each character is perfectly cast in their roles.

Thomas Vinterberg’s ravishing and gripping rural drama should surely garner some awards at least for the handsome production design and for expertly recreating such a literary treasure on the big screen, making the film just as relevant in an age filled with multimillion dollar CGI laden blockbusters.

Far From the Madding Crowd is an exceptional film and highly recommended for those that enjoyed Jane Campion’s The Piano, Joe Wright’s 2005 film Pride and Prejudice and more recently Cary Fukunaga’s superb film Jane Eyre featuring Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender.

The Veracity of the Story

Kill the Messenger

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Director: Michael Cuesta

Cast: Jeremy Renner, Rosemarie DeWitt, Robert Patric, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Oliver Platt, Paz Vega, Andy Garcia, Ray Liotta, Tim Blake Nelson, Michael Kenneth Williams, Barry Pepper, Michael Sheen, Gil Bellows, Dan Futterman

Oscar nominee for The Hurt Locker and The Town, Jeremy Renner plays the real life investigative journalist Gary Webb, who while working for the San Jose Mercury News uncovers a complex story involving the CIA, crack cocaine, money laundering and the funding of the Nicaraguan Contra Rebels to topple the Sandinista lead government in a dirty war in the Central American nation – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nicaragua.

Gary Webb http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gary_Webb expertly played by Renner was best known for his Dark Alliance series of articles which gained international media attention before the days of Wikileaks, which uncovered the origins of crack cocaine on the streets of South Central Los Angeles and allegedly traces its roots and funding back to the CIA which was using the profits of the drug sales to fund the Contra Rebels in Nicaragua in the mid 1980’s to the 1990’s.

Whilst the crux of director Michael Cuesta’s film Kill The Messenger is about media ethics it also delves deeper into the murky world of career and character assignation when the established media houses included The Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post claimed that Webb’s explosive articles could not be substantiated by credible sources as most of those were shady drug runners, secretive government operatives and vanishing Swiss bankers in Panama City.

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The revelations sparked outrage in many of the African American communities of America’s major cities especially Los Angeles. The drug ring helped escalate a crack cocaine epidemic on the streets of many of these cities and more shockingly the profits were being used by the CIA and also paved the way for the Colombian drug cartels to enter the American market.

Webb’s Dark Alliance series focused on the links between three men, Danilo Blandon; Ricky Ross played by Michael Kenneth Williams and a more elusive Norwin Menezes played by Andy Garcia.

What Kill the Messenger shows is that in the days before instant online information leaks which have characterised the 21st century that the American Intelligence community did anything to discredit the author of the story and in this case Webb’s own career and life suffers tremendously when he directly names the CIA in a complex tale of money-laundering, drug running and political interference.

Webb soon resigns from the San Jose Mercury News and takes up a less prolific post in Cupertino, California, while his relationship with his wife and children suffer immensely, as witnessed by his wife Sue played by Rosemarie DeWitt as Sue wife and teenage son Eric played by Matthew Lintz both whom can see that Webb has become a victim of a calculated smear campaign to basically discredit him as an investigative journalist.

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Throughout the entire disownment of the story by established media houses including an internal investigation into the veracity of the sources by Webb’s own newspaper San Jose Mercury News, Webb is convinced that his Dark Alliance series has truth and merit, which besides any investigative flaws did manage to inflame the African American community to demand answers from the Director of the CIA as to the unrelenting flood of crack cocaine in their neighbourhoods.

There is a fundamental shift in Kill the Messenger, which director Cuesta handles intelligently in that the film ceases to be about the story that Webb has uncovered but more about Webb as a person with all his character defects. There is a line in the film which sums this up – “If you put a man under a microscope then all his life’s flaws and discrepancies will come to light”

Renner acts the part of Gary Webb intensely and passionately as he soon realizes that he has become the story and not what his story was about, something not too dissimilar to what has happened to contemporary whistle blowers such as Edward Snowden and Julian Assange.

Kill the Messenger is a fascinating portrait of an investigative journalist who uncovers an international web of corruption, lies and money laundering only to find himself the victim of his own story. Unfortunately the veracity of the story takes its toll on the storyteller.

Cuesta’s film whilst filled with a sprinkling of character actors including a fabulous cameo by Mexican actress Paz Vega and loads of directorial embellishments is not a perfect film, but certainly a provocative story which at least vindicates Gary Webb’s own personal battle to get the truth out there, despite the costs. Recommended viewing for those that enjoyed The Fifth Estate, All the Presidents Men and The Paperboy.

 

 

Recapturing the Magic

Midnight in Paris

Owen Wilson has never been a brilliant actor. Mainly a comic actor and often cast in similar roles in a long series of American comedies from You, Me and Dupree to The Wedding Crashers. Under the right direction and script, Wilson is the type of actor that would shine. This is proven in Woody Allen’s simply delightful nostalgic film Midnight in Paris, which won him the 2012 Oscar for best original screenplay.

Wilson, like Jason Biggs and similar actors including Larry David plays a version of Woody Allen, a young idealistic  and neurotic playwright/author who is on holiday in Paris in the 21st century with his fiancée a wealthy American played by the effervescent Rachel McAdams. Wilson plays starry-eyed Gil who wants to recapture the Paris of the twenties, the enchanting city of lights as the epicentre of literary and artistic culture and bohemian ideas as it was decades ago. The Paris of Henry Miller, Pablo Picasso, Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein. The Paris immortalized by F. Scott Fitzgerald in such novels as Tender is the Night.

Partly to avoid his annoying future in-laws, the hapless Gil strolls the streets of the French capital and by some magical twist at the stroke of midnight is transported back to the late 1920’s where his literary figures come to life. With real interaction with the artists and writers of the 1920’s and also of the earlier more elegant Belle Epoque, Gil is inspired to forgo all the promised commercialism of an America career and remain in gorgeous Paris,  a move that so many of his literary heroes did more than 80 years ago.

Midnight in Paris is a homage to Paris as an inspirational city not just for a whole generation of American literary greats, but Spanish artists such as Dali and Picasso but also filmmakers such as Luis Bruneul. Woody Allen deftly integrates a French and American ensemble cast including Oscar winner Marion Cotillard as Picasso’s muse, Adrien Brody as Dali, Allison Pill as Zelda Fitzgerald, Michael Sheen, Kathy Bates as Gertrude Stein and even Carla Bruni.

Moving away from his Manhattan obsessions, Woody Allen is clearly enchanted with such European cities as Paris, Barcelona and London completes his European set of films with Midnight in Paris, an equally brilliant companion to Vicky Christina Barcelona and Matchpoint, with each film not just capturing the essence of these cities but also the ambiance and social characteristics of its famed residents, whilst throwing an American hero or heroine into an essentially foreign continental culture.

 

Claiming the Blood of a Virgin

The Twilight Saga

Teenage Love…

As the thunder rolls and the clouds are slate gray on a dark afternoon, I break my silence on the cinematic phenomenon that is the Twilight Saga, based on the teenaged marketed books by Stephanie Meyer. Starting with Twilight in 2009, and now with the release of Breaking Dawn – Part 1, the Twilight movies have made instant stars out of Robert Pattinson, Kristen Stewart and Taylor Lautner, helped with a great supporting cast including Peter Facinelli, Dakota Fanning, Kellen Lutz and Michael Sheen, this saga has the world divided. You either a fan or your are not. Twilight is similar to the Star Wars phenomenon and more recently the involved and magical Harry Potter films.

While so far in the series, the first film Twilight directed by Red Riding Hood and Lords of Dogtown visionary Catherine Hardwicke, is in my opinion still the best in the series, capturing the full flush of uncertain flirtatious love between local girl Bella Swan and the mysterious and wealthy Edward Cullen, who also happens to be a friendly and nefarious vampire, whilst New Moon and Eclipse start losing their originality and their cinematic focus. The eternal love affair between Bella and Edward is further complicated by Bella’s attraction to Jacob, the hunky Red Indian Washington state local who also happens to be a werewolf.

Whilst Bella becomes the focus of both Edward and Jacob’s love, their mutual competitive hatred transforms into a fraternal bond to protect Bella in the face of all forms of danger from ancient and vicious vampires to ferocious wolves, while maintaining a fragile truce between the two opposing worlds.

Bella, a human caught in a love triangle between the vampire Edward and the werewolf Jacob, is the basis of all narrative conflicts demonstrating the oldest plot in all fairy tales, an innocent maiden caught between the dashing yet mysterious prince and the ordinary but protective woodsman. Whilst Twilight captured the anguish of the original teenage love crush and subsequent bitter feuds, New Moon and Eclipse expand the worlds of the elegant vampires and tribal werewolves respectively.

Blood Red Sky and the Dawn of Immortality

But Bella is far from innocent! She wants the best of both men, and marries one while gaining protection of the other. Breaking Dawn, Part 1 while drawn out in parts follows the progression from the wedding to the creepy honeymoon in Brazil to moonlit impregnation and subsequent labour of her first child, a union between human and vampire. While Bella’s ordeal is really the shedding of virgin blood as part of the price for being a Vampire’s Bride, the Twilight series, whilst tapping into a wealth of mythology about vampires, first love and folklore is essentially a journey of a young girl from purity and innocence to the losing of her virginity at the cost of forsaking her mortality for the love of not one but two men and her transference from her own community to a world of eternal immortality.

Don’t expect brilliant acting from any of the leads, while Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson go through the motions of a seemingly happy newly married couple, not realizing the horror they in for, which is a watered down version of Rosemary’s Baby, Taylor Lautner’s Jacob seems as confused as ever, whether he wants to run with the wolves or protect the baby in the wood is not clearly portrayed. The Twilight saga is popular for its luminous love story set against some brilliant and spectacular Washington state scenery, and like all saga films, the original film is always the best.

The Twilight saga’s hidden message of no sex before marriage is also entwined along with the pitfalls for indecisive teenage girls who are caught between two vastly different male species, the charming seductive and moody prince or the caring and earthy woodsman, a tale as old as the bride of Dracula itself… a love triangle as treacherous as when time began. Whatever the outcome, the goal for the maiden is to lose one’s virginity and shedding blood and purity whilst dialectically opposing tribal forces clash over the loss of innocence and fight to claim the prize of the vanquished virgin. As for Part two, will there be a happily ever after?

 

 

A Neon Coated Inception

Tron Legacy is more impressive for its fantastic digital effects and a dazzling homage to the original Tron movie back in 1982 than for any impressive plotline beyond the eternal battle of good versus an evil form of the original 3 dimensional creator.

The effects are better, the look glossier and the action captivating. This version of Tron is a neon-coated Inception without Christopher Nolan’s psychological plot twists, but retaining high production values, stylish sets and director Joseph Kosinski emphasizes the infinity of the Tron digital grid, with all its notorious battlegrounds and ravishing images.

Digital Hero with Charming Dexterity

Garrett Hedlund proves himself as a leading man, the energetic Sam Flynn opposite the versatile Jeff Bridges reprising his role as Sam’s father Kevin Flynn, mysterious founder of Tron video Games, languishing in digital exile and battling an existential identity crisis with his own nemesis. Watch out for a scene-stealing camped up performance by Michael Sheen as Zuse, a sort of Electronic Discotheque owner and dubious double-crosser. Olivia Wilde makes a wonderful appearance as the fearless warrior and digital queen Quorra.

Tron Legacy is really best suited for 3-D and definitely has to be watch in a big screen cinema, with the spectacular effects and brilliant soundtrack by daftpunk. Fans of Science fiction films be sure to watch Tron Legacy more for its dazzling production design and digital effects than any unusual surprises in plot. Tron Legacy pays homage to Star Wars, Blade Runner, Terminator and all the epic science fiction films of the eighties most importantly the original ground-breaking film Tron released in 1982.

Digital Classic for the Computer Generation

Madhatters to A Single Man…

Alice in Wonderland

Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderlandis clever, unconventional, but essentially not darker enough – although saved by Tweedledum & Tweedledee and the Red Queen… Johnny Depp is wonderful as the Madhatter and Helena Bonham Carter is brilliant as the Red Queen. Anne Hathaway also features as the White Queen along with Mia Wasikowska as Alice Kingsleigh in the titular role.

Ruling Wonderland one Queen at a time!

Ruling Wonderland one Queen at a time!

Remember Me

 

Tower of indestructible Love

Remember Me is surprisingly good although does tend to drag in the 2nd act, but wait for the finale – its a stunner… And as for Robert Pattinson – of course he is brilliant and holds his own in the film amongst such support talents as Pierce Brosnan, Academy Award winner, Chris Cooper (Adaptation) along with Oscar nominee and Swedish born actress Lena Olin (Unbearable Lightness of Being, Enemies: A Love Story). Recommended viewing.

A Single Man

Tom Ford’s luscious and sexy A Single Man is pure cinematic pleasure, every shot is like a Vogue fashion shoot and whilst the supporting cast are to die for, its really Colin Firth’s wonderful and sensitive central performance that lingers long after the lavish final shot!! See it just for the Spaniard in the Phone Booth scene!! Utterly breathtaking… especially Nicholas Hoult as the young and gorgeous Kenny skinny dipping in the Pacific at Midnight. Also starring Matthew Goode and Ginnifer Goodwin.

Lover and the Lush!

Lover and the Lush!

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