Posts Tagged ‘Rodrigo Santoro’

From the Big Easy to Buenos Aires

FOCUS

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Directors: Glenn Ficarra and John Requa

Cast: Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Gerald McRaney, Rodrigo Santoro, Brennan Brown, Adrian Martinez, Dominic Fumusa

The writing and directing team of I Love You Philip Morris, Glenn Ficarra and John Requa recreate a similar glossier con film teaming up Will Smith (Bad Boys) and Margot Robbie (The Wolf of Wall Street) in Focus.

Con artists, petty thieves, grifters all unite in this amusing if slightly drawn out tale of Nicky who first meets the flirtatious Jess beautifully played by Robbie in a swanky New York Hotel bar. The chemistry between the two onscreen are palpable and soon the action or lack thereof, moves from icy New York to sultry New Orleans during the SuperBowl weekend.

As the crowds flock to the Big Easy to watch the Superbowl or known as the National Finals of the American Football, the con is on as Nicky with a band of thieves and light fingered crew rob the unsuspecting crowds of their watches, jewellery, wallets and even luggage in the infamous French Quarter or one of New Orleans swanky hotels.

As Nicky and Jess procure tickets to the Superbowl finals, his proclivity for gambling becomes evident as he delves into sports betting against a notorious Chinese gambler, Liyuan flamboyantly played by B. D. Wong (The Normal Heart).

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As the stakes get higher Jess soon realizes that the number 55 chosen by the gambler is part of a larger con to extract more cash out of him. After doubling their money in New Orleans, a crime partnership seems imminent put then Nicky does the unexpected U-turn and dumps Jess in the Big Easy much to her horror.

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The action moves forward three years to the Argentinian capital of Buenos Aires to the racy and glamourous world of Formula One racing driving where Nicky is employed by a wealthy Argentinian playboy Garriga wonderfully played by Rodrigo Santoro who incidentally also appeared in I Love you Philip Morris to con a rival Australian team out of a special racing gadget. As Nicky told Jess back in New York when the con is on, one needs to always maintain focus.

Things in Buenos Aires get murkier when Jess appears on the scene looking absolutely gorgeous in a red dress at an Argentine nightclub. Margot Robbie who excelled as the wife of Jordan Belfort in Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street excels in this role making the screen sizzle with her beauty and naughty naivety. Viewers should also watch out for a great character role of Owens superbly played by Gerald McRaney recently seen in the brilliant Netflix series House of Cards.

Without giving away more of the plot, Focus does actually lose some of its focus especially in some of the scenes between Smith and Robbie, and the narrative does appear disjointed and is nowhere near as compact or sinister as Stephen Frears classic, The Grifters, but then that was on an entirely more sophisticated film. Although Focus by writing and directing team Ficarra and Requa is not the first film of theirs that I have compared to The Grifters, Stephen Frears’s film noir classic, it is certainly the benchmark to set all con films by.

Focus is a fun filled if slightly drawn out con movie, with lots of glamour, a lot less action but nevertheless it’s beautiful to watch, yet the filmmakers fail to draw the audience in too deeply into the characters misfortunes. Recommended for those that enjoyed Now You See Me and I Love You Philip Morris.

 

 

 

Bloody Visuals Detract from Ancient Legends

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300: Rise of an Empire

Director: Noam Murro

Starring: Eva Green, Sullivan Stapleton, Rodrigo Santoro, Lena Headey, Callan Mulvey, Jack O’Connell, David Wenham

300: Rise of an Empire lacks the visual punch of the original 300 directed by Zach Snyder which made himself and its star Gerard Butler enormously famous. In this follow up sequel, 300 Rise of an Empire looks at the fortunes of the God King Xerxes, a fabulously gold clad Rodrigo Santoro as he attempts to invade the Greek Isles and its major city states. It shows the ruthless of the invading Persians in nautical battles which took place almost simultaneously to the battle of Thermopylae when 300 Spartans saved Greece by becoming martyrs. In 300: Rise of an Empire, audiences can expect a necrophiliac lustful and sexy naval commander Artemisia wonderfully overplayed by Eva Green (The Dreamers, Casino Royale) getting off on decapitations and drowning of her own sailors as she viciously commands the Persian fleet ordering them to defeat the Greek ships at all costs. The Greeks in this case are represented by muscle bound Themistocles who just happened to be the daring soldier that killed Xerxes father King Darius with a fateful arrow that changed the course of these two ancient civilizations.

Lena Headey (now famous in the HBO Series Game of Thrones) reprises her role as Queen Gorgo of the Spartans who not only narrates the entire ancient diatribe but also features as a plot device for avenging the death of Leonidas in 300 against the invading Persians. What makes 300: Rise of an Empire worth watching is brutal sex scene bordering on sadomasochism between Artemisa and Themistocles on board a Persian vessel reminding audiences of the tangible psychological link between sex and death.

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Unfortunately the blood visuals and excessive gore featured in 3D in this sequel detracts stylistically from what could have been a really fascinating narrative about ancient civilizations battling it out on turbulent Mediterranean seas. Australian actor Sullivan Stapleton could not rival Gerard Butler in screen presence with the only redeeming feature being the audacious Eva Green making the most of her bloodthirsty and vengeful role as the kinky and sadistic Artemisia, a tragic Greek woman who has turned on her own nation after her family was brutally slaughtered.

Ancient history buffs will enjoy 300: Rise of an Empire but this is an unworthy sequel to the fabulously dazzling and original film and will land up being regarded as mere popcorn viewing. 300 Rise of an Empire is fun, sexy and slightly disturbing but not fantastic and definitely not worth it in 3D especially as Israeli director Noam Murro chose gore and bloodlust over historical accuracy. Callan Mulvey and Jack O’Connell also star as father and son team Scyllias and Calisto valiantly fighting the Persians and providing a less than emotional subplot to the real Aegean drama of the nautical battle between Persians and Ancient Greeks.

The Grifters meets Brokeback Mountain?

I Love You Phillip Morris

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Initially I love you Phillip Morris came across as The Grifters meets Brokeback Mountain with elements of  the hit TV series Prison Break thrown in. An inventive film which clearly does not shy away from the truth of the picaresque tales of a con man and who gives a whole new slightly skewed definition of going off the straight and narrow. Jim Carrey plays Steve Russell who after a car accident dumps his religious Southern wife, a lovely performance by Leslie Mann and flings open the closet doors and moves to Key West, getting a boyfriend in tow. Discovering that gay lifestyles are expensive, Russell becomes a conman, whose childhood memories of identity are shattered by his parents breaking the news that he is adopted, hence not really knowing or worrying about his true identity or sense of self.

Russell lands up in prison due to a series of felonies and in Texas of all states. There he meets and falls in love with Phillip Morris a mild, naive and slightly muted performance by Ewan McGregor whose understated  role matches the flamboyance and colourful character of Russell played with panache and relish by Jim Carrey. The fact that they have met in a prison is indicative of the type of relationship which is both trapped by personal circumstances and the larger social system, filled with repression, occasional violence masking as homoeroticism. Fun is made of the relationships of male prisoners and sometimes of the issues of exchange and bartering within that confined environment, both sexual and physical.

What really makes I love you Philip Morris so compelling as a film is that it is a true story which took place entirely during the Bush administration, whilst also proving that Jim Carrey can take on more complex characters. The downside is that this remarkable piece of cinema is lacking in any uniformity of vision co-directed by John Requa and Glen Ficarara, who are certainly not the Coen brothers. So the visual style lacks in moments which could emphasize the dramatic and downplay the outrageous element of the narrative. To label this as a gay film would be incorrect for that would do injustice to such masterpieces as Tom Ford’s stylish A Single Man and Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain.

This is more a film about gay men who try to buck the system in a state as notoriously conservative as it is equally contradictory, Texas and the bizarre consequences that follow.

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As the tagline suggests The Conman that wouldn’t go straight is apt and while this is no classic is it is definitely an entertaining if not slightly disturbing piece of cinema and not for those easily offended. It fills the gap between The Grifters and the possibility of there being a Gay sequel to that brilliant Stephen Frears film sans Annette Bening.

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