Posts Tagged ‘Sean Penn’

Calvary Rebounded

The Gunman

gunman

Director: Pierre Morel

Cast: Sean Penn, Javier Bardem, Mark Rylance, Idris Elba, Ray Winstone, Jasmine Trinca, Peter Franzen

Taken director Pierre Morel brings to cinematic life an above average thriller The Gunman based upon the novel by Jean-Patrick Manchette pairing Oscar winners Sean Penn (Mystic River, Milk) and Javier Bardem (No Country for Old Men) together for the first time.

Set in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, England and Spain, Penn plays an off the books Mercenary who is unwillingly hired to assassinate the Minister of Mines in the DRC after his announcement that the war torn country would be limiting foreign owned mining companies from operating in the ravaged but mineral rich central African country formerly the Belgian Congo.

gunman_ver5Dubbed operation Calvary, once the assassination takes place in 2006 Terrier was to leave the country and the continent and also that of his love interest, NGO worker Annie played by Italian actress Jasmine Trinca.

Fast forward eight years to 2014 and Terrier is targeted back in the DRC by some mean looking machete welding men and soon hightails it back to London after a narrow escape. Back in England, he confronts the mastermind of operation Calvary, the shady British businessman Cox played by Mark Rylance (Anonymous, The Other Boleyn Girl).

Terrier soon realizes that all the men involved in operation Calvary have been killed only leaving himself and boozy Spaniard Felix played by Bardem. The action thankfully moves to the fabulous Catalonian capital of Barcelona where things really heat up as Trinca realizes that her former flame is alive and well. After a very bloody shootout in a Spanish villa, Terrier travels to the British protectorate of Gibraltar to finally confront the real culprit in this scandalous and dangerous international cover up.

Unfortunately director Pierre Morel’s film The Gunman despite having two A list actors in it, suffers from the wait of its own importance and does not nearly come close to such masterpieces as the brilliantly directed Fernando Meirelles thriller The Constant Gardener based on a John le Carre novel.

The Gunman has all the right ingredients including shady Multi-Nationals plundering Africa’s vast mineral wealth, a covert operation which went horribly wrong and a doomed love affair which is finally reconciled.

gunman_ver4Penn gives an impressively muscular performance as the mercenary Terrier but Bardem and even Golden Globe nominee Idris Elba (Mandela, Pacific Rim) are wasted in this overlong meandering thriller which despite the exotic locations could have been neatly edited. The script needed an incisive treatment by Oscar winning scriptwriter Peter Morgan (The Queen, Frost/Nixon, Rush).

The Gunman is an average thriller and although at times exhilarating lacks a clear vision and less contrived plot, although the bullfight sequence at the end certainly is inventive. Recommended viewing for those that enjoyed The November Man and The Constant Gardener. Look out for cameos by Ray Winstone (Noah, Snow White and the Huntsman) and Finnish actor Peter Franzen as the crazed gun for hire.

61st Golden Globe Awards

The 61st Golden Globe Awards

Took place on Sunday 25th January 2004 hosted by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association

Golden Globe Winners in The Film Categories:

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Best Film Drama: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

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Best Film Musical or Comedy : Lost in Translation

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Best Actor Drama: Sean Penn – Mystic River

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Best Actress Drama: Charlize Theron – Monster

Best Actor Musical or Comedy: Bill Murray – Lost in Translation

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Best Actress  Musical or Comedy: Diane Keaton – Something’s Gotta Give

Best Supporting Actor: Tim Robbins – Mystic River

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Best Supporting Actress: Renee Zellweger – Cold Mountain

Best Director: Peter Jackson – The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

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Best Foreign Language Film – Osama (Afghanistan)

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/61st_Golden_Globe_Awards

2003 Venice Film Festival

2003 Venice International Film Festival Winners

Venice International Film Festival, known as the Biennale di Venezia takes place annually
in late August, early September and is the oldest Film Festival in the World.

Winners of the 2003 Venice International Film Festival are as follows: –

The Return Vozvrashcheniye_movie

Golden Lion (Best Picture) – The Return directed by Andrey Zvyagintsev

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Silver Lion (Best Director) – Takeshi Kitano for Zatōichi

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Best Actor – Sean Penn – 21 Grams

Rosenstrasse

Best Actress – Katja Riemann – Rosenstrasse

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Venice_International_Film_Festival

 

Hollywood Hard Hitters

Gangster Squad

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Based upon the fascinating non-fiction book, Gangster Squad by Paul Lieberman, the beautifully yet violent cinematic rendition of the story of how an elite group of LA cops formed a Gangster Squad to tackle the effects of organized crime in post-wars Los Angeles, is thrilling to watch, engrossing and thoroughly entertaining. Featuring an all star cast including Ryan Gosling as Jerry Wooters, Josh Brolin as Jack O’Mara, Emma Stone as Grace Faraday and Sean Penn as the malevolent gangster Mickey Cohen who terrorized the Hollywood Boulevard in the early days of the city of angels growth is both visceral and heartfelt.

Giovanni Ribisi and Michael Pena also star as electronics expert Conwell Keeler and Officer Navidad Ramirez respectively in this brotherhood tale of elite cops fighting the influences of organized crime in the form of the vicious New York immigrant Mickey Cohen. Whilst Paul Lieberman’s novel goes into a truly in depth analysis of the origins of organized crime in Los Angeles, before and after the 2nd World War especially as California and Nevada become ripe for the East Coast families to increase their criminal activities. In this case Chicago crime emissary Jack Dragnet, played by Jon Polito is soon wiped out by Mickey Cohen who will go to any lengths to become Los Angeles’s crime boss.

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Directed by Ruben Fleischer, Gangster Squad skips over much of the social history in favour of making a sleek, glamorous and violent film about the sharp shooting and mischievous Squad which successfully undermined Mickey Cohen’s grip on the city of Angels in the late 40’s and early 50’s. Not nearly as measured and brilliant as Barry Levinson’s film Bugsy about Bugsy Seigel’s establishment of Las Vegas in the late 40’s, Gangster Squad comes off more as a nostalgic pastiche of all great Gangster films from the same genre most notably The Untouchables, Bugsy and the brilliant L. A. Confidential.

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Gangster Squad features a smooth talking Ryan Gosling in what is really an ensemble piece about a group of men who go to any lengths to undermine the mob king in their town often at their own personal costs. Gosling’s screen time with Emma Stone is fabulous along with some particular brilliant and captivating action sequences, Gangster Squad is held together by a brilliant cast, fabulous sets and a superb retelling of an emerging city out of the clutches of crime and into those of glamour and cinema, which is what Los Angeles is more famous for today.

Recent more grittier films about Los Angeles downtown crime film like End of Watch also starring Michael Pena shot in a Southlands TV series style has not changed the image that LA is still a city plagued by foreign criminal organizations or crazy criminals as immortalized in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction and not so much by East Coast immigrants as it was in the first half of the 20th century.

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Paul Lieberman’s book Gangster Squad is a brilliant read as his detailed history of the city of Angels in the mid 20th century is perfectly captured and exceptionally well researched.  The Hollywood film version of Gangster Squad is by all respects a brilliantly recreated 1940’s handsome cinematic experience complete with Slapsy Maxies also starring Nick Nolte as Chief Parker and Anthony Mackie as Officer Coleman Harris and worth watching for the quirky dialogue, well orchestrated action sequences,  and will surely delight those fans who loves similar styled mobster movies!

 

81st Academy Awards

81st Academy Awards

22nd February 2009

Oscar Winners at the 81st Academy Awards

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Best Picture: Slumdog Millionaire

Best Director: Danny Boyle – Slumdog Millionaire

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Best Actor: Sean Penn – Milk

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Best Actress: Kate Winslet – The Reader

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Best Supporting Actor: Heath Ledger – The Dark Knight (received Oscar posthumously)

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Best Supporting Actress: Penelope Cruz – Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Best Original Screenplay: Dustin Lance Black – Milk

Best Adapted Screenplay: Simon Beaufoy – Slumdog Millionaire

departures

Best Foreign Language Film: Departures directed by Yojiro Takita

Best Documentary Film: Man on Wire – directed James Marsh

Best Original Score: A. R. Rahman – Slumdog Millionaire

Best Cinematography: Anthony Dod Mantle – Slumdog Millionaire

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Best Costume Design: Michael O’ Connor – The Duchess

Best Film Editing: Chris Dickens – Slumdog Millionaire

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Best Visual Effects: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/81st_Academy_Awards

 

76th Academy Awards

76th Academy Awards

29th February 2004

Oscar Winners at the 76th Academy Awards

 lord_of_the_rings_the_return_of_the_king

Best Picture: Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

Best Director: Peter JacksonLord of the Rings: The Return of the King

mystic_river

Best Actor: Sean Penn – Mystic River

monster

Best Actress: Charlize Theron – Monster

Best Supporting Actor: Tim Robbins – Mystic River

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Best Supporting Actress: Renee Zellweger – Cold Mountain

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Best Original Screenplay: Sofia Coppola – Lost in Translation

Best Adapted Screenplay: Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh & Philippa Boynes – Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

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Best Foreign Language Film: The Barbarian Invasions directed by Denys Arcand– (Canada)

Best Documentary Feature: The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara by Errol Williams and Michael Williams

Best Original Score:  Howard Shore – Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

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Best Cinematography: Russel Boyd – Master and Commander: The Far Side of The World

Best Costume Design: Ngila Dickson and Richard Taylor – Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

Best Film Editing: Jamie Selkirk – Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

Best Visual Effects – Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/76th_Academy_Awards

Activism and Martyrdom

Milk

directed by

Gus van Sant

The article below was prepared for a film workshop and discussion of Milk held at the inaugural Durban Gay and Lesbian Film Festival November 2011.

“My name is Harvey Milk and I want to recruit you”.

 

Political Activist, Martyr and lover of Opera

These words were used at a speech Milk made on the San Francisco City Hall steps as an elected city supervisor at the Gay Freedom Day Parade on the 25th June 1978 four months before being assassinated. This scene in Gus Van Sant’s film is critical to the viewing of Milk as not just as a film about the Gay rights movement in America, but a film about civil rights and the fight for protection against bigotry and the preservation of individual freedoms which should be enshrined in any democracy.
Milk was an activist for Gay rights and for human rights and he galvanized the communities of Castro Street in the Eureka Valley and also the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco for the protection of civil liberties. Milk was also the first openly gay man to be elected to an official position in a major metropolitan American city. He was a south-African equivalent of an Executive councillor and not merely a ward councillor.

Historically any political movement with a strong base of supporters, martyrdom works. There are examples of martyrs in a range of socio-political movements worldwide from Gandhi to Martin Luther King, to Ruth First. Milk knew of the risks he was taking as an openly gay supervisor who was ready to engage in public debate at a time when the gay rights movement was blossoming along the American West Coast.

Milk was ready to die for his beliefs and was already casting himself in the role of a martyr – he persevered in the face of constant death threats. He challenged opposing viewpoints which were mostly grounded in the form of religious bigotry and parochial conservatism crystallized in the form of Florida religion fanatic Anita Bryant and Californian Republican Senator John Briggs.

Milk stood up for what was right at a particular moment in a historical context which reflected the aftermath of the sexual revolution of the 1960s, and followed on from similar social political movements in America most notably the civil rights movement of the 1960s and the anti-war demonstrations of the late 60s and early 70s (notably about the Vietnam war). Harvey Milk was a skilled political activist and knew how to mobilise his supporters effectively.
Milk’s challenge to gay and lesbian people in America was this – We have to let them know who we are. You have to be open about your sexuality. He was the political version of the current crop of Hollywood stars and singers who are breaking through the glass closet Zachary Quinto and Ricky Martin, David Hyde Pearce, Neil Patrick Harris.

As a film, Milk was hugely successful for 3 reasons –
1) Director Gus van Sant is an openly gay director and has touched on homosexuality in his previous films, My Own Private Idaho and his award winning film Elephant.
2)  The screenwriter Dustin Lance Black who won an Oscar for best adapted screenplay was openly gay.
3) Milk as a film was researched and had the input of surviving members of the Gay rights movement of the 1970s notably the influential Cleve Jones, played by Emile Hirsch in the film, Milk was shot in all the actual locations in and around San Francisco, notably the City Hall and Castro Street neighbourhood. Van Sant encouraged all the actors to improvise in their characters in the authentic locations they were shooting in. Seasoned actor, Sean Penn’s performance of Harvey Milk is exceptionally brilliant, notably winning him a 2nd Best Actor Award.

There is a moment in Milk when Harvey is delivering the recruitment speech at Gay Freedom Parade that this biopic transcends the boundaries of being just a film about gay rights, but a film about justifiable civil rights. Ironically the call for recruitment sounds very similar to Uncle Sam calling for new army recruits to the US military. Gay people came to San Francisco from small towns across America and the gay community swelled after the end of World War 2 when many closeted military men disembarked at San Francisco after returning from the Pacific theatre of War and remained in the city, not obviously keen to return to conservative mid-Western towns.

Viewing Milk in a South African context

South Africa is an intensely political society and as a new democracy which has enshrined the rights of every individual by having one of the most liberal constitutions, gay people are protected by the constitution but is there an adequate justice system to enforce the civil liberties of gay people in SA. This point is made in Milk in the 70s when gay men are beaten up and victimised by SF police officers in the film. Even though gay rights are enshrined in the South African constitution and discrimination based on sexual orientation is forbidden, does the South African police force adequately uphold these rights in contemporary society? In terms of Gay Pride marches worldwide from Sao Paulo to Warsaw – the role of the police as both protector and persecutor is brilliantly explored in the documentary Beyond Gay: the Politics of Pride.

Best line in the film – “I sound like a homosexual with Power” – from being marginalised to being politicized that was the legacy that Harvey Milk gave to the American and the international gay rights movement.
Harvey Milk was a quintessential Gay politician who only served in office for one year but his impact on social change and his symbol as a martyr for the gay rights movement in America and internationally is huge. Milk was 40 years old when he first came out the closet and started living as an openly gay man.
The character of Dan White played by Josh Brolin in Milk represents a complete dichotomy from Harvey Milk. White was also a fellow city supervisor from a strong Irish Catholic neighbourhood who was concerned more with supporting a family on a municipal salary than supporting any of Harvey Milk or Mayor George Moscone’s liberal city ordinances. Dan White viewed Harvey Milk as a threat and he acted upon that threat, whereas Milk underestimated the danger of Dan White as a potential enemy. The last quarter of the film, there is a sense that Milk had almost become cavalier with his political power despite receiving numerous death threats. Milk was willing to become a martyr and for the cause, often remarking that politics was theatre.

Politics is Theatre

Politics is theatre except the scripts are different, but there remain the stars even they become legends as martyrs.

Van Sant skilfully shows not just the extent of the Milk’s activism but also his passion for the gay rights cause at the immense cost of his personal life and safety. The film beautifully reconstructs the fateful events leading up to Milk’s assassination and the truly poignant ending of Harvey Milk being heralded as a martyr by the community he served and adored. Milk is more about Martyrdom and Activism in a socio-political movement in the 1970s and the call for equal civil rights for gays and all other minorities.

Today in San Francisco there are convention centres, streets and public institutions named after slain City Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone. Corner of Castro and Market Street in Eureka Valley is now called Harvey Milk Plaza.
The immortalization of martyrs for a cause is not new in any political movement and is especially significant in the current SA political context with conference centres, highways and streets being renamed after struggle heroes against Apartheid more appropriately in cities such as Durban and Johannesburg.

Proposition 6 as put forward by Californian Senator Briggs was legislation that allowed the California state to discriminate against employees in this case teachers on the basis of sexual orientation. Milk’s biggest triumph was getting the gay communities and the broader society to vote against the implementation of proposition 6.
Irony is that Gay Marriage in America as a federal law is still banned. Only several US states have passed legislation allowing gay marriage to date including Vermont.
Proposition 8 (ballot title: Eliminates Rights of Same-Sex Couples to Marry. Initiative Constitutional Amendment; called California Marriage Protection Act by proponents) was a ballot proposition and constitutional amendment passed in the November 2008 state elections. The measure added a new provision, Section 7.5 of the Declaration of Rights, to the California Constitution, which provides that “only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.” – Wikipedia source.
Innovative film style of Gus Van Sant –Van Sant’s visual style is unique from extreme close-ups highlighting the intimacy of the characters to showcasing the broad political activism that Milk did to galvanize and protect the gay community in San Francisco in the 1970’s. Political activism involved taking over a block then a neighbourhood and gaining support and credence for specific municipal issues.
Suggested Reading and Viewing: ~
Biography: The Mayor of Castro Street: The Life & Times of Harvey Milk by Randy Shilts
Documentary: Beyond Gay: The Politics of Pride by Bob Christie

 

By Way of Grace or Nature

The Tree of Life

Capturing the Universe’s essence

Reclusive American film maker Terrence Malick’s visually evocative epic The Tree of Life centres on a Southern American family living in the then idyllic town of Waco, Texas in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. A strict and religious father, a loving and luminous mother and three boys is intimately shot and interwoven with a larger meditation on the existence of God, the universe, Birth and Death and the arc from a more pastoral existence to the technology filled society which has defined the 21st century. The father is played brilliant by Brad Pitt and the mother by Jessica Chastain each representing the balance in nature between order, discipline and change with beauty, grace and tenderness.

Malick’s vision is of a true auteur and is entirely uncompromising, creating a cinematic experience in The Tree of Life which is visually astounding, intimately beautiful and prosaic enhanced with amazing cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki. Using a non-linear narrative, multiple levels of sound combining breathtaking music with snatches of interior monologue from his characters, the audience has to piece together the progression of this journey of a family who suffers a loss by way of nature.

There are no structured scenes but rather a series of visually sublime and breathtaking scenery intercut with a larger vision of the universe’s origins, the development of life on earth and the natural order of selection. Where Malick excels are the scenes of the three brothers innocently playing, focusing on the eldest son, Jack’s viewpoint who is deeply affected by his father’s discipline, balancing his own aggression by acts of affection for his younger siblings. Jack also appears as an older man, played by Sean Penn as an architect in Houston, still affected by the earlier grief which defined his family.

The Tree of Life is not a commercial film and if viewers enjoyed Malick’s two previous films, The Thin Red Line and The New World, then they will appreciate this beautiful yet bewildering meditation on the origins of existence on earth, yet his latest visual offering did impress the jury at Cannes walking off with the 2011 much coveted Palm d’Or. See it to make your own impressions.

A Fine and Fabulous Portrayal

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The brilliant film Milk is recommended not so much for its excellent coverage of political mobilization but more for Sean Penn’s superb and heartfelt portrayal of Harvey Milk. Of course there are those seventies fashions, James Franco skinny dipping and the wonderfully coy Emile Hirsh. Well worth the viewing.

If viewers loved director Gus Van Sant’s earlier works including My Own Private Idaho, Drugstore Cowboy and Elephant, then this film is up there with Gus Van Sant’s original masterpieces.

There is a detailed analysis of Milk under the title Activism and Martyrdom http://www.davidrwalker.co.za/2011/11/milk/ in a comprehensive article praising the merits of this film as a biography and a moving portrait of the Gay Rights Movement in America.

Milk also stars James Franco, Diego Luna, Emile Hirsch, Alison Pill and a fine supporting performance by Josh Brolin as supervisor Dan White.

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