Posts Tagged ‘Toby Jones’

Notorious Norway

The Snowman

Director: Tomas Alfredson

Cast: Michael Fassbender, Rebecca Ferguson, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Chloe Sevigny, Val Kilmer, J. K. Simmons, James D’Arcy, Toby Jones, Jonas Karlsson, Jakob Oftebro, David Dencik

Norwegian novelist Jo Nesbo’s thriller The Snowman is brought to cinematic life by Iranian screenwriter Hossein Amini and co-written by Peter Staughan. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy director Tomas Alfredson brings this bleak Norwegian thriller to the big screen with a constantly icy landscape concerning a ruthless and psychopathic serial killer who kills his victims every time the snow begins falling, which in a Scandinavian winter, would be consistently often.

Assembling an international cast including Oscar nominee Michael Fassbender (12 Years a Slave, Steve Jobs) as hard-drinking detective Harry Hole opposite art house actress Charlotte Gainsbourg, the muse of Danish auteur Lars von Trier who starred in such films as Anti-Christ and Nymphomaniac as his ex-girlfriend Rakel, personally I had high hopes for this thriller being a captivating cinematic experience. My criticism is that in The Snowman, the character relationships were not clearly defined, which made navigating this thriller virtually impossible.

Having not read the Jo Nesbo novel, I found this film version slightly lacklustre especially in the slow moving first half. Despite a refreshing change of watching an entire film shot in Norway, The Snowman didn’t quite pack the same verve as David Fincher’s utterly compelling film version of Stieg Larsson’s blockbuster thriller The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

Rebecca Ferguson who appeared in Life and Florence Foster Jenkins also stars as co-detective Kathrine Bratt who is harbouring secrets of her own especially as she tries to entice Norwegian businessman Arve Stop played by Oscar winner J. K. Simmons (Whiplash) into a honey trap, since he has a peculiar penchant for photographing beautiful girls. Rarely seen actor Val Kilmer (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Heat and Pollock) makes a welcome comeback as Gert Rafto a Bergen based detective following a similar murder case years earlier.

While The Snowman’s narrative visibility is as convoluted as the blurry icy landscape of Oslo and Bergen, the acting comes off as flat and uninspired. Which is a great pity considering the film’s acting talent.

Fassbender does a reasonably good job of bringing some dimension to Harry Hole, the lonely but observant detective, however one gets the sense that he fully was committed to the role as he was in director Justin Kurzel’s Macbeth.

Perhaps the reason for my lukewarm response to this supposedly icy thriller was that I had a nightmarish cinematic experience coupled with expectations that director Tomas Alfredson would make an equally impressive film as his gripping adaptation of John le Carre’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.

The Snowman for all its gripping plot-twists, peppered with gruesome murders, gets a film rating of 6.5 out of 10.

 

Freedom versus Fear

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Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Directors: Anthony & Joe Russo

Starring: Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Robert Redford, Samuel L. Jackson, Anthony Mackie, Emily VanCamp, Sebastian Stan, Frank Grillo

Not quite matching up to the brilliance of the Coen brothers or the technical wizardry of the Wachowski brothers of the Matrix series, directing team and brothers Anthony and Joe Russo who directed You, Me and Depree are at the helm of the new Captain America movie with the expert assistance of Joss Wheldon (The Avengers, Cabin in the Woods). Chris Evans reprises his role as Captain America along with Scarlett Johannsen as wise cracking Natasha Romanoff or The Black Widow along with newcomer Anthony Mackie (The Hurt Locker) as Sam Wilson or known as the Falcon. Emily Van Camp (from the TV series Revenge) makes a welcome big screen appearance as SHIELD agent 13 along with Frank Grillo and Callan Mulvey recently seen in 300: Rise of an Empire who all round off the star studded cast.

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In Captain America: The Winter Soldier the action is firmly rooted in America’s capital Washington DC with the Smithsonian and Virginia as backdrop focusing on the SHIELD headquarters which are duly comprised when an assassination attempt on its leader the aptly named Nick Fury smoothly played by Samuel L. Jackson. The so-called chief of SHIELD Alexander Pierce played by Hollywood veteran Robert Redford appears to have a more sinister agenda.

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Captain America aka Steve Rogers teams up with The Black Widow and Falcon to fight the seemingly invincible Winter Soldier who is an evil Hydra byproduct from the Second World War and played by an unrecognizable Sebastian Stan (Black Swan). Where the first Captain America dwelt firmly on America’s successful involvement in World War II heading up the allies defeat of Nazi Germany and all its equally nefarious covert operations, Captain America: The Winter Soldier thrusts the WWII all American hero firmly in the 21st century where with the aid of the internet Steve Rogers has managed to catch up on the last 50 years of human history.

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There are a couple of references to the original Americana of the first film, but this Captain America sequel takes on a more Transformeresque approach and features lots of brash action sequences clearly initiated by influence from director Joss Wheldon’s big budget blockbuster The Avengers. The only criticism of the film was that with all the explosive action taking place, Captain America: Winter Soldier does not effectively use the medium of 3D and could easily have been viewed in traditional 2D.

The nostalgic glamour of 1940’s America and Europe during a World War is replaced with high-tech gadgetry of a level resembling a more ambitious and implausible sci-fi film set well beyond the 21st century. Naturally the plot takes a couple of fascinating twists but the entire narrative of Captain America: Winter Soldier lacks a uniformity of vision so clearly tangible in the original film, but this sequel is nevertheless entertaining and will surely please all superhero fans.

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Although there is no real love interest like in Captain America – with Hayley Atwell’s character considerably aged, the downside of dating a boyfriend who was kept on ice for 50 years! Captain America: The Winter Soldier is another great superhero action film in the Avengers vein with Marvel studios clearly capitalizing on a hugely successful and ever expanding franchise especially after the success of Iron Man 3.

Not to be over analyzed but simply enjoyed in the perennial battle of freedom versus fear or SHIELD versus Hydra, fans of Captain America, Thor and Iron Man will surely not be disappointed. Note to audiences to wait in the cinema beyond the retro 007 end credits for a sneak peak at potential plot of Captain America 3?

Dark and Lurid Victory Tour

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

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 Director: Francis Lawrence

Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Liam Hemsworth, Josh Hutcherson, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Donald Sutherland, Lenny Kravitz, Jeffrey Wright, Paula Malcolmson, Stanley Tucci, Elizabeth Banks, Woody Harrelson

The Hunger Games trilogy author Suzanne Collins was inspired to write the largely allegorical tale of an alternative version of contemporary American society by flicking through channels on TV with alternating images of award shows, reality Series and brutal wars occurring in distant countries over the last decade from Afghanistan to Syria.

The sequel to the hugely successful Hunger Games film, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire directed by Austrian Francis Lawrence (Water for Elephants) follows the Victory Tour of Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark, victors of the Hunger Games which for those that don’t know is a brutal invented arena in which teenagers fight to the death to claim spoils for their respective district, each of which owes enforced allegiance to The Capitol, for which the Hunger Games becomes a televised Bloodsport.

Each Tribute, teenage sacrifices as they are known are paraded in a lurid fashion at the outrageously lavish Art Deco inspired Capitol while the brutal games are televised live. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire takes this vicious propaganda spectacle of the victory tour a step further in the gladiator like parade of the Quarter Quell a quarterly sequel to the annual Hunger Games, a fantastic and dazzling scene out of a contemporary Ben Hur.

The victorious tributes and the heroes of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire Katniss Everdeen, beautifully played by Oscar winning actress Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook) and Peeta Mellark, played by Josh Hutcherson (The Kids are Alright) hold their own along with Katniss’s other love interest the hunky Gale Hawthorne played by Liam Hemworth.

The ever versatile Lawrence really makes The Hunger Games and Catching Fire her own as her feisty and resilient Katniss is the central force in a bizarre world of brutality, repression and becoming the symbol of hope and defiance against a vicious ruler, the sinister President Snow, wonderfully played by screen veteran Donald Sutherland, who views the Hunger Games as a way of keeping the twelve districts of Panem entrapped in a terrifyingly civil obedience to the decadent Capital with its outrageous fashions, increasingly lavish spectacles and bizarre cosmetic trends.

Remember this is allegory and in this form of narrative, the story line can be as outlandish and brutal as possible, as removed from reality, but mirroring a recognizable world that is to close for comfort. Think of modern day America with reality TV series including the rise of the Kardashians, The Amazing Race and Survivor along with a plethora of increasingly lavish Hollywood Award Shows with the infamous red carpet. So perhaps The Hunger Games trilogy although allegorical is more close in commenting the dichotomies of an increasingly digital 21st century American culture where alternating images of brutality and glamour are available at the flick of a switch.

Nazi inspired propaganda images abound

Nazi inspired propaganda images abound

For The Hunger Games viewers and its more stylized and lurid sequel Catching Fire, its best to read the novels first otherwise the unfamiliar world of Panem would seem too bizarre to comprehend and the fortunes of its heroes Katniss and Peeta would not be plausible, whether it’s their fight for survival or their covert acts of defiance.

Watch out for a particularly menacing performance by Oscar winner Philip Seymour Hoffman (Capote) as the mysterious game maker Plutarch Heavensbee  along with another over the top performance by Elizabeth Banks as Effie Trinket.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire shows humanity’s depth for cruelty and spectacle much like the gladiator games were meant to placate the salivating audiences of ancient Rome, except this film takes the images much further, to a darker more lurid and unexpected act of defiance.

The cast also includes  Woody Harrelson as the heavy drinking Haymitch Abernathy, Lenny Kravitz as the flamboyant fashion designer Cinna along with Jeffrey Wright as tech savy victor Beetee and Amanda Plummer as Wireless.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is an innovative piece of cinema, recommended for the dazzling sets, the lurid costumes and crisp sound editing and the captivating if not truly bizarre storyline, see it at a cinema soon and be transported into Panem, a world unlike anything imaginable…

 

The Evil Queen Stakes

Snow White and the Huntsman

Vicious Vanity takes no prisoners

Director Rupert Sanders visually stunning Gothic Snow White and the Huntsman channels Gullermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth and the hit HBO Feudal Fantasy series Game of Thrones and ain’t no fairytale although all the elements of fantasy are evident from Trolls to Dwarves, to Knights and Fairies. The real winner of Snow White and the Huntsman is the Evil Queen Ravena played beautifully with a seriously unhinged quality by Oscar winner Benoni superstar Charlize Theron, referencing her earlier role in Monster. In Snow White and the Huntsman, Charlize steals the show and is the backbone to this dark fantasy epic featuring Kirsten Stewart as the meek and anaemic Snow White and Thor’s hairy and gruff Chris Hemsworth as the sword wielding Huntsman sent to rescue the damsel trapped in the dark forest…

Mirror Mirror

This Queen ain’t no Bad Apple

Where the frivolous and occasionally funny Mirror Mirror spectacularly fails is the casting of goodie-two-shoes actress Julia Roberts as the Evil Queen in director of The Immortals Tarsem Singh’s frothy and glossy retelling of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves in Mirror Mirror, which as a comedy is fun in parts namely due to the casting of genuine dwarves, along with Nathan Lane and Lily Collins, daughter of singer Phil Collins as the sweet and innocent Snow White, but the casting of Julia Roberts as the Evil Queen?Really?

Joan Rivers, Rupaul  or Kim Catrall could do a better job especially in this semi-Bollywood fantasy featuring  the buff Armie Hammer as the hapless but entirely vacant Prince. Wait for the end of Mirror Mirror to see the Dance number and the redeeming aspect is the fabulous costumes at the Queens Ball with Snow White as a Swan…

Unlike Mirror Mirror, Snow White and the Huntsman is pure feudal old world action with a dash of macabre incest, vanity and vicious magic realism. Charlize Theron steals the show as the completely off kilter pyschopathic Evil Queen who bathes in milk and whose gold mirror comes to life. Twilight star Kirsten Stewart only really comes into her role as the grubby Snow White in the second part of the film, but alas there is no chemistry between her and the Huntsman, played with less enthusiasm by Chris Hemsworth who really made an impact with Kenneth Branagh’s Thor.

Mirror Mirror is suitable for pretty little girls and Snow White and the Huntsman is more closer to malignant  witchcraft appealing to a more jaded generation complete with a sinister Evil Queen hell bent in her quest for the heart of a virgin at the expense of the seven dwarfs, the occasional fairy and a hapless Troll. Charlize Theron is just that much more menacing in the evil Queen stakes and film’s final show down is visually stimulating.

 

 

Gritty and Compelling Spy Drama

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Director: Tomas Alfredson

Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Christian McKay, Ciaran Hinds, Colin Firth, Gary Oldman, John Hurt, Kathy Burke, Laura Carmichael, Mark Strong, Toby Jones, Tom Hardy

The compelling film adaptation of John le Carre’s best selling cold-war espionage novel, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is superb. Featuring a brilliant British all male cast including Oscar Winner Colin Firth, Mark Strong, Tom Hardy, John Hurt and headed up by a solid yet subtle performance by Gary Oldman, who proves in this film that he is a great actor and has always harboured an exceptional talent.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is all about routing out a double agent, a traitor and an adulterer. If viewers have not read le Carre’s novel, they could be forgiven for feeling a bit lost in terms of storyline.

For those that have read the novel, Tinker Tailor follows le Carre’s novel brilliantly and whilst it does not glamorize the spy genre it certainly shows that wisdom and skill triumph over youthful deception and ambition. The film focuses on George Smiley played with subtlety and elegance by Oldman who comes out of retirement to find a mole in the Circus, which is essentially a section of Mi6 in London, to find out which of the handlers which brought over a defector from Hungary during the cold war but turned that defector into a source for trading secrets with the Soviets and reporting on all the intelligence activities that London was carrying out behind the Iron Curtain in Budapest.

Featuring Mark Strong as mysterious agent Jim Prideaux and Tom Hardy as rogue agent Ricki Tarr and Colin Firth as the vain and suave handler Bill Haydon and John Hurt as Control, Smiley skilfully pieces together through these senior espionage characters those behind the elaborate web of intrigue and the man who was responsible for turning the British crown’s espionage secrets over to the Russians after the Hungarian fiasco.

Swedish Director Tomas Alfredson’s gritty and essentially European film version of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy set mainly in England and Hungary depicts an intellectual tale of deception, espionage, adultery and a testament to one man’s incredible and highly nuanced capability at seeking out the source of the international espionage cover-up. Highly recommend especially for Gary Oldman’s brilliant Oscar worthy performance.

Clashing of Vanities

My Week with Marilyn

My Week with Marilyn directed by Simon Curtis is a charming film about the clashing of vanities in a more subtle and polite society following the filming of the musical comedy The Late Prince which would become 1957 film The Prince and the Showgirl teaming up the great British Theatre personality Laurence Olivier and 1950’s American screen goddess Marilyn Monroe at Britain’s legendary Pinewood Studios.

Michelle Williams takes the part of Marilyn Monroe and might not be as voluptuous physically, but her brilliant performance of the doomed and fragile screen icon Monroe who was a legendary flirt and a consummate movie star is layered and superb. Kenneth Branagh is equally brilliant as the vain and pompous Laurence Olivier whose  divergence into cinema with the Prince and the Showgirl was beset with problems on the Pinewood studios set especially made more difficult by the pill-popping, temperamental and sultry Monroe.

The clash between Monroe and Olivier went far deeper than vanity or fame, it was also a conflict of their two vastly different styles of acting. Monroe was trained in the Lee Strasberg school of method acting  popular in Hollywood, California originally pioneered by Constantin Stanislavski and refers to the method of actors drawing on their own personal emotions and memories in their onscreen portrayals.  Olivier was a London Shakespearian theatre actor and was quite unused to the medium of film.

Monroe felt and acted in the moment which worked brilliantly on the short takes of cinema, whilst Olivier was trained in the more established tradition of  Classical Theatre where thespians  rehearsed and performed a repertoire of theatre from Greek tragedy to plays by Sheridan, Shakespeare, Chekov and Noel Coward and prepared for their roles by learning their lines down to the last iambic pentameter and essentially being on time and in full costume. Their vastly different styles of acting is exemplified in the original 1957 film, The Prince and the Showgirl.

My week with Marilyn is told through the eyes of a 3rd Assistant Director Colin Clark played with surprising vigour by rising British Star Eddie Redmayne who is smitten by the tantalizing Marilyn Monroe and has a wonderful supporting cast including Zoe Wanamaker as Paula Strasberg, Dominic Cooper as Hollywood agent Milton Greene along with Julia Ormond as Laurence Olivier’s wife Vivien Leigh and Dougray Scott as playwright Arthur Miller, Marilyn’s husband at the time of shooting Prince and the Showgirl. Watch out for a great cameo by Dame Judi Dench playing the great Shakespearean actress Dame Sybil Thorndike. Where My Week with Marilyn excels is how beautifully it illustrates how divergent British and American cultures were especially in the 1950’s and how the clashing of vanities between the screen siren Monroe and the theatrical Olivier underlined both these stars own vulnerabilities and their strengthens.

Casting of Williams and Branagh as legendary stars Monroe and Olivier was critical in making My Week with Marilyn a lovely and substantial film about the making of film itself and the insecurities and drama that goes on between a Screen siren who knew how to titillate the public especially men and an aging theatre actor desperate to make his cinematic debut.  Both Williams and Branagh deserved earned Oscar nominations for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actor but lost out to Meryl Streep for The Iron Lady and Christopher Plummer for Beginners at the 2012 84th Academy Awards.

Military Retro Americana Reigns

Captain America: The First Avenger

From Scrawny to Super Muscular

Joe Johnston’s retro superhero film, Captain America, The First Avenger is a wonderfully evocative 1940s style Americana glamorizing the American involvement in World War II and what better way to achieve this macho propaganda than through the story of Captain America, reluctantly but brilliantly played by Chris Evans who starts the film as an underweight and scrawny all American boy Steve Rogers desperate to enrol in the US Army and contribute to the European theatre of War. A German immigrant scientist, Dr Abraham Erskine played with relish by Stanley Tucci recognizes Rogers ingenuity and enlists him in a top secret research project aimed at fighting the mysterious Nazi supernatural research unit Hydra, headed by the demonic Captain Johann Schmidt, played with sinister pleasure by Hugo Weaving.

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Evans character Rogers through a specially injected serum is transformed into the brawny and muscular Captain America, a super soldier who initially is used as a ridiculous propaganda figure by the US military driving up conscription and bolstering the armies psyche in their fight against the Nazi’s in a glorious cinematic pastiche of Americana complete with showgirls and wartime publicity.

As this is a comic book caper and very far from the actual reality of war, Captain America with the aid of a motley crew of trusted soldiers, an elegant British attache Peggy Carter played by Hayley Atwell of Brideshead Revisited fame and empowered with an arsenal of weapons, military transportation and the like by Howard Stark, Ironman’s father, played by the dashing Dominic Cooper from Mamma Mia, Captain America takes on the crazed Captain Schmidt whose powers derive from some Nordic mythological cube, capable of utter destruction.

Only the Brave and the Strong

Captain America is thrilling, glamorous and a great adventure film with tribute being payed to the Indiana Jones franchise whilst keeping in line with similar styled 1940s themed films from Casablanca to Bugsy. Watch out for a fantastic chase sequence in Brooklyn, a twist at the end and definitely a promise of a sequel. The supporting cast are terrific from Tommy Lee Jones as the no nonsense Colonel Phillips to Hugo Weaving bolstering up Chris Evan’s performance as the ultimate American superhero.

 

 

Seduction and Salvation in China

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The Painted Veil

This beautiful film gorgeously directed by John Curran and based on the novel by W. Somerset Maugham is set in China in the 1920’s is a sumptuous tale of seduction and salvation told with an ironic eye about a young woman who marries a micro-biologist and bacterial specialist featuring superb performances by Naomi Watts and Edward Norton.

The young scientist needs a wife and the young woman needs to escape the confines of her suburban Chelsea family. Initially the young couple live in the exotic city of Shanghai and then due to an indiscretion on the wife’s part, as punishment the Doctor takes her to a cholera infected village in rural China, where she learns with humility about atonement and the true sacrifice involved in staying married at whatever the cost. The Painted Veil is shot in gorgeous colours making the most of the dramatic Chinese landscape and with a beautiful score by Alexandre Desplat (who was hailed for his original music for the Oscar winning Stephen Frears film, The Queen.) and consequently won a Golden Globe award for Best Original Score for this film.

Most notable is the strong performances by the two leading actors, both entirely underrated, Edward Norton playing the brutal and slightly calculating doctor who learns to treat his wife as more than a personal assistant, and Naomi Watts who plays Kitty the naive young Englishwoman who finds salvation in the most unlikely locations and with the assistance of Mother Superior, a wonderful cameo by Diana Rigg.

This 2006 film surely did not get all the praise it was worth upon release but will remain an undiscovered cinematic gem. The Hollywood Foreign Press described The Painted Veil as one of the most beautiful films ever made. The cinematography and the mesmerizing music by Alexandre Desplat withstanding, this film is well worth watching and could easily be considered a 21st century classic.

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