Posts Tagged ‘Richard Jenkins’

Seducing an Amphibian

The Shape of Water

Director: Guillermo del Toro

Cast: Sally Hawkins, Doug Jones, Michael Shannon, Octavia Spencer, Richard Jenkins, Michael Stulbarg, David Hewlett, Martin Roach

Mexican director Guillermo del Toro reinvents cinematic magic realism in this darkly sublime fantasy adventure The Shape of Water featuring a stand out performance by British actress Sally Hawkins and character actor Michael Shannon.

Set in a covert government laboratory in Baltimore in the early 1960’s at the height of the cold war, The Shape of Water deftly weaves an extraordinary and compelling story of a young mute woman Elisa Esposito played by Hawkins (Happy Go Lucky, Blue Jasmine) who along with her co-worker Zelda Fuller played by Oscar winner Octavia Spencer (The Help) play observant cleaners in this secret facility ruled by the vain and cruel manager, Richard Strickland, wonderfully played with an ambivalent menace by Oscar nominee Michael Shannon (Nocturnal Animals, Revolutionary Road).

Elisa lives with a repressed homosexual Giles who is struggling to reignite his graphic design business. Giles is played with an exuberant flair by Oscar nominee Richard Jenkins (The Visitor).

What is so magnificent about The Shape of Water is the brilliant script co-written by del Toro and Vanessa Taylor and the intriguing plot is underscored by a tantalizing musical score by Oscar winner Alexandre Desplat who also provided the fantastic original score for director Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel.

Highlighting the duplicitous Cold War, is the fastidious scientist Dr Robert Hoffstetler beautifully played by character actor Michael Stuhlbarg (A Serious Man, Trumbo, Miles Ahead).

Eliza, the sexually charged mute cleaning lady develops a sensual bond of the most unusual nature with the Amphibian man played by Doug Jones, who is both exotic, dangerous and restorative. This Amphibian was discovered in the South American jungle and worshipped as a God by the indigenous tribes only to be snatched by sinister American agents to be used as a guinea pig in a space race against the murky and nefarious Soviets.

The Shape of Water is an intelligently woven allegorical tale about the exotic entering a decade of American consumerism which was as paranoid as it was dictatorial: the 1960’s. Set against the Cold War, this augmented paranoia is heightened through various well placed TV images of the rising tensions of the civil rights movements permeating in the background, along with many other counter-cultural movement which eventually undid the 1960’s completely and changed America forever.

Visually, The Shape of Water is rich with symbolic imagery and director Guillermo del Toro relishes in mixing the brutal with the gorgeous.

The love of cinema shines through in The Shape of Water, which I consider to be del Toro’s best work with the exception of his Oscar winning foreign language film, Pan’s Labyrinth.

The performances by a mostly ensemble cast are exemplary in a film that will dazzle the senses aided by exceptionally high production values and a quirky story which is both lyrical and tragic.

Highly recommended viewing, The Shape of Water gets a film rating of 9 out of 10.

 

 

Where Myths and Science Meet

Kong: Skull Island

Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts

Cast: Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, John C. Reilly, John Goodman, John Ortiz, Shea Whigham, Corey Hawkins, Tian Jing, Toby Kebbell, Jason Mitchell, Richard Jenkins, Thomas Mann

The allusions to Apocalypse Now and Joseph Conrad’s novel The Heart of Darkness are rife in newcomer director Jordan Vogt-Roberts action packed seventies set adventure film Kong: Skull Island.

Featuring an international cast including British actor Tom Hiddleston, Oscar winner Brie Larson (Room), John Goodman, Samuel L. Jackson, John C. Reilly and Tian Jing (The Great Wall), Kong: Skull Island wastes no time on characterization or dramatic build up but rushes straight into an adrenaline filled action film set at the end of the Vietnam war in 1973.

With a retro seventies soundtrack to match, Bill Randa played by John Goodman and Houston Brooks played by 24: Legacy’s Corey Hawkins get the go ahead from Senator Willis briefly played by Richard Jenkins (Eat, Pray, Love) to assemble a  military team and journey to a mysterious storm ridden island in the South Pacific on an exploratory mission.

The team consists of soldiers hanging for some more action after the American withdrawal from Vietnam including Preston Packard played by Samuel L. Jackson and Cole played by Shea Whigham (American Hustle) along with anti-war photographer Mason Weaver played by Larson and golden boy James Conrad, played by Hiddleston (Thor: The Dark World).

As they approach Skull Island and drop seismic charges on the lush and malignant landscape, the team soon discover that a massive beast is guarding the island from vicious lizards. That beast is King Kong, that giant gorilla last seen on top of the Empire State building with a blond in his palm. Reference Peter Jackson’s 2005 epic King Kong.

Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts cleverly wastes no time in cutting straight to the action as various teams on the island are separated only to be individually preyed upon by a variety of nefarious creatures including giant spiders. While Packard and his band of mercenary soldiers are keen on annihilating Kong, Mason and James stumble upon Hank Marlow, a crazed but good natured World War II pilot who accidentally landed on Skull Island back in 1944 and never left, even befriending the silent locals who worship Kong as their sole protector.

Marlow is superbly played by character actor John C. Reilly, a role clearly referencing Dennis Hopper’s frenetic photojournalist in Apocalypse Now without the looming intensity of a Mister Kurtz watching over his horrific empire. Reilly brings empathy to the role of Marlow, another clear reference to The Heart of Darkness and advises the more sympathetic team that Kong is not that bad. A fact which is vividly illustrated by Mason Weaver’s wonderful encounter with the gigantic beast.

Brie Larson gives a resilient performance as the only strong female lead in a basically all male film and has the best screen time with Kong, realizing that much like those brave soldiers hunting Kong, they are all as confused about this rapid reversal in the environmental food chain.

Kong: Skull Island is unadulterated adventure, punctuated with cool photographic stills of exotic ethnography to capture a unique and terrifying experience where myth and science meet.

With the help of a groovy seventies soundtrack and a stand out performance by John C. Reilly, Kong Skull Island gets a film rating of 7.5 out of 10. Highly recommended viewing.

 

Evading the Threat Matrix

White House Down

white_house_down_ver8

Director: Roland Emmerich

Cast: Channing Tatum, Jamie Foxx, James Woods, Jason Clarke, Jimmi Simpson, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Nicholas Wright, Richard Jenkins, Lance Reddick, Matt Craven

Historians have concluded that the decline of the Roman Empire happened from within due to the increasing barbarization of the army protecting its vast borders. In Roland Emmerich’s impressive White House Down, the same can be said for the paramilitary group which attack America’s presidential palace with impunity in retaliation for the President pulling out all US armed forces from the Middle East.

Although this Decline of the American Empire is nowhere near as subtle or brilliant as the Canadian film version by Denys Arcand, White House Down is a more intricately plotted action thriller than Antoine Fugua’s thematically similar film Olympus Has Fallen. Both films, have similar plot points and follow an almost identical narrative except that in White House Down, the enemy is not a bunch of gun totting Koreans, but a right wing American paramilitary group who have slipped through the threat matrix.

What makes Emmerich’s White House Down a better picture than Olympus has Fallen, is that there is more background characterization making the motives for such an attack on the White House infinitely more credible thanks to the inventive screenwriting of James Vanderbilt. Whilst Gerard Butler and Aaron Eckhart do not have as much bonding time in Olympus Has Fallen, the two stars of White House Down, Channing Tatum (Magic Mike, The Vow) as wannabe secret service agent John Cale  and likeable African American president Sawyer, played with a humorous twist by the ever watchable Jamie Foxx (Django Unchained, Collateral), make for the teaming of two brilliant leading men. The rest of the cast consists of the experienced Maggie Gyllenhaal as Finnerty, James Woods as Walker head of the Secret Service and the brilliant Richard Jenkins as the Speaker Raphelson.

Emmerich also manages to capture the historical significance of the White House as Cale and his news savvy daughter are first taken on a tour of the White House, during which the vicious paramilitary group lead by the ubiquitous Australian actor Jason Clarke (The Great Gatsby, Lawless, Zero Dark Thirty) playing ex-special ops strongman Stengz start planning their Coup d’Etat.  In a precursor of what’s install, there is even a painting showed in one scene of the film, showing the newly built 19th century White House up in flames during the Burning of Washington by the British Army in 1812, the only time a foreign power has ever occupied the American capital – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burning_of_Washington.

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Whilst the characterization and historical back story of the first half of White House Down make for fascinating viewing, the second half of the film transcends all sense or sensibility as all the American presidential icons from Air Force One to the famed White House are blown to smithereens. The action is nevertheless stimulating whilst the film does appear to veer towards a very unsubtle level of American patriotism not seen on the big screen since Olive Stone’s Born on the Fourth of July. White House Down is sure to keep audiences spellbound by the fantastic special effects and brilliantly orchestrated bid budget action sequences which is expected from the director of such blockbusters as Independence Day, 2012 and The Day After Tomorrow.

White House Down like Emmerich’s previous films is not without some wonderful comic touches, making the characters human in times of a crisis, despite some of their intentions, from the White House tour guide Donny played by Nicholas Wright to the diabolical techno guru Tyler, played by Jimmi Simpson (Zodiac) hacking into Presidential compound’s mainframe computer whilst listening to Beethoven’s 5th, or the sneaker clad US President Sawyer arming himself with a rocket launcher as they race around the White House’s pristine lawn in one of the film’s best chase sequences. Just imagine Obama doing that?

Recommended viewing for lovers of big budget action films, and unadulterated American patriotism. See White House Down to believe it!

 

Arsenal of Intrigue

Jack Reacher

Get Jack Reacher!

Get Jack Reacher!

Tom Cruise returns to the big screen as Jack Reacher in the title role, a less glamorous version of  Ethan Hunt in the Mission Impossible Franchise a untraceable drifter who gets called to Pittsburgh following a multiple sniper shooting incident leaving four people dead. Jack Reacher is directed by the screenwriter of Valkyrie Christopher McQuarrie and based upon the book by Lee Child who turns out an evenly paced suspense thriller with Reacher teaming up with the District Attorney’s daughter Helen Rodin played by Rosamund Pike to help solve a seemingly senseless crime leaving five innocent people dead expertly shot in broad daylight in Pittsburgh.

Jack Reacher uses military training and a quirky way to get to solve the crime and find out who really is behind the seemingly sense killings. Unlike the horrific real-life massacre at Newtown, Connecticut in December 2012, there does appear to be a motive behind the senseless act of violence in downtown Pittsburgh which occurs in Jack Reacher as the film not only looks at the alleged perpetrator but also at the victims. Soon the real criminals are exposed along with a dodgy Georgian (ex-Soviet Union) corporation taking over the American construction industry.

Whilst Jack Reacher is a well-timed suspense thriller, one gets a feeling that Tom Cruise’s days playing an action hero are numbered. Although that said Bruce Willis is still churning out Die Hard sequels. Despite the random violence explored, there is underlying sense in the film that America is never going to allow its citizens to forfeit their right to bear arms, as outlined in the second amendment.

Jack Reacher is an engaging action film especially as a crime reconstruction thriller, with Cruise naturally holding his own as the unconventional recession-hit action hero, using other people’s cars and catching buses. Watch out for a brief appearance by German film director, actor and screenwriter Werner Herzog as the arch villain. Interesting casting to say the least and unfortunately the talented Richard Jenkins is underutilized in Jack Reacher, but remains necessary as does Robert Duvall to create a strong supporting cast.

Terrific on Screen Chemistry

Friends with Benefits

 

A complicated relationship

From LA to the Big Apple, Friends with Benefits is a quirky 21st century comedy which pokes fun at romantic comedies but ultimately succumbs to the formula which has made this genre so popular. Mila Kunis from Black Swan is utterly delightful as the street savvy New York head hunter for the Olive Branch Recruitment agency who organizes a job for Dylan Harper played with his usual boyish charm by Justin Timberlake seen in The Social Network, arriving fresh off the plane from LA as art director for GQ. While Timberlake is coming into his own as an actor and is appearing in many more films, it is certainly Kunis who steals the show in this 21st century digitized urban jungle of the New York magazine industry. The on screen chemistry is brilliant between Kunis and Timberlake helped by a witty, sometimes rude but very direct script.

As Timberlake and Kunis become good friends in NYC, they decide to play tennis in other words have sex, hence the friendship with a nudge and wink on the side. Friends with Benefits mid way through the film was giving the impression that it was just about its two leading stars, then the scriptwriters bring in Kunis’s dilly mother played by A-class character actress Patricia Clarkson and Timberlake’s father, played by the equally talented Richard Jenkins from Eat, Pray, Love and The Visitor.

New York and LA feature as cities with their own distinct character, with New York outshining in terms of the most attractive destination. Friends with Benefits features some wonderful scenes including a flash mob dance sequence in Times Square, a great cameo by Woody Harrelson as the gay sports editor for GQ and gorgeous shots of the Big Apple’s skyline and a wonderfully comic scene at the Hollywood sign in Los Angeles. Besides the friendship, this is sex in both cities with Timberlake and Kunis doing a fine job at turning the romantic comedy drama literally upside down, with loads of filmic and digital references for the internet generation. Worth watching!

Eat, Pray, Love and Indulge…

Eat Pray Love

Successful TV series Glee director Ryan Murphy’s big screen adaptation of the Elizabeth Gilbert bestseller Eat Pray Love staring Julia Roberts as a New York writer who decides to embark on a years journey of spiritual discovery is infused with a luminous glow from the opening scene in luscious Bali.

No such thing as a guilty pleasure – just indulge!

Whilst any self-discovery novel is difficult to bring to the big screen especially as Elizabeth Gilbert writes about her own experience on a years trip to Italy, then India and finally Indonesia, Julia Roberts delivers a fine performance as Liz relishing in the exotic locations and a wonderful supporting cast which seems to improve as the 2 and a half hour film progresses.

Eat

The Italy section is superb and the locations especially Rome, the Italian actors and naturally the food are sumptuous and particularly easy on the viewer making the Eat section utterly enchanting.

Pray

Whilst Murphy tried to imitate the opening sequence of Slumdog Millionaire in the India section, the most moving part of the film is a standout character performance by Richard Jenkins as Richard from Texas.

For in the novel, Eat Pray Love, Richard from Texas was a character written with such accuracy and obvious charm that I kept wondering which actor would fill that part. Jenkins does a superb interpretation of a middle-aged American who has literally lost everything landing up at the Ashram to clear his mind and an overwhelming sense of guilt.

Love

The final section of Eat Pray Love, set in Bali was fascinating but after Italy and India, felt a tad faded although the scenery is still ravishing. As far as adaptation goes, the film sticks very close to the novel and Julia Roberts does a hugely impressive task of managing a character that has travelled not only literally across the globe, but also spiritually from a discontented New Yorker escaping an ugly divorce to a woman who has found serenity and peace as she discovers love again in a most unlikely man. Javier Bardem whilst always gripping to watch, gave the impression he was not quite comfortable in such a largely commercial film as Eat Pray Love. Bardem is more at home in edgier roles playing the Spanish seducer in Vicky Cristina Barcelona or the psychopathic killer in No Country for Old Men or the gay Cuban poet in Julian Schnabel’s Before Night Falls.

Bardem’s role as Felipe the love interest for Liz in the Love act of the journey lacked edge and panache in a role that was as unclear in the novel as it appeared in the film. Although watching Roberts and Bardem together was certainly interesting more for the lack of sparkle than the effort the two actors put in to contrive to make their romance believable.

Best scenes in the film are most certainly in Rome (all the sequences are exquisite) and the delightful meals Roberts character is served puts Babette’s Feast to shame. Worst scene in the film was the ending, but I’ll leave that up to the viewer to decide. Most consistency in Eat Pray Love was the varied choice of actors who played alongside Julia Roberts as her character travels the world, from Billy Crudup to  the shamefully underutilized James Franco to Richard Jenkins and finally to Javier Bardem.

As for it being a woman’s movie, not really as regardless of one’s gender anyone who has ever desired to travel or more importantly decided to take a year off from the monotony of urban living and responsibility and see countless exotic locations could surely identify with Liz’s journey. Eat Pray Love should feature at the Awards season if not for Julia Roberts most certainly for a supporting actor nomination for Richard Jenkins. Whilst it is no Razor’s Edge, Eat Pray Love will find many ardent fans the world over.

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