Posts Tagged ‘David Harbour’

Daughters of the Red Guardian

Black Widow

Director: Cate Shortland

Cast: Oscar nominee Scarlett Johansson (Marriage Story; Jojo Rabbit), Oscar nominee Florence Pugh (Little Women), Oscar winner Rachel Weisz (The Constant Gardener), BAFTA Nominee Ray Winstone (Nil By Mouth; That Summer!) Oscar winner William Hurt (Kiss of the Spider Woman), David Harbour, O-T Fagbenle, Olga Kurylenko

Film Rating: 8 out of 10 – and this film is currently showing in cinemas

Marvel’s phase four of  blockbuster Superhero films was meant to kick off in 2020 with the highly anticipated release of the spinoff film Black Widow, focusing on the origin story of the more elusive Avenger, Black Widow aka Natasha Romanoff and her extended espionage family.

Unfortunately, the Coronavirus Pandemic wreaked havoc in 2020 with theatrical release dates, forcing parent company Disney to push back the date to mid-2021 and also allowing Disney sufficient time to develop their online streaming service Disney Plus.

The Disney owned Marvel studio’s big female driven film of 2020 Black Widow, finally did get released in mid-2021 and simultaneously went onto streaming on Disney Plus prompting the main star Oscar nominee Scarlett Johansson (Marriage Story; Jojo Rabbit) to sue Disney for contractual misconduct as she was hoping to reap some of the benefits of Black Widow, like she presumably did in the biggest Box office success of 2019, the theatrically released Avengers: Infinity War, which grossed billions of dollars worldwide in cinema ticket sales in the pre-pandemic era of packed cinemas.

Despite all the impending litigation, Black Widow is a superb spy film, directed by Australian director Cate Shortland with a fantastically talented cast besides Scarlett Johansson.

Completely upstaging Johansson is 2019’s Oscar nominated breakout star of Little Women, Florence Pugh as the feisty “younger sister” Yelena Belevoa. Florence Pugh steals every scene in Black widow as the wisecracking Yelena along with the equally talented Oscar winner Rachel Weisz (The Constant Gardener) who plays Black Widow and Yelena’s mysterious “mother” Melina.

There is the Red Guardian himself, the “father” of Natasha and Yelena, wonderfully played with a humorous bravado bordering on the crazy by character actor David Harbour (Black Mass, Suicide Squad, Quantum of Solace).

Black Widow’s entire plot of Russian sleeper agents living in mid-Western America is carefully lifted from the hit TV series The Americans and director Cate Shortland pays homage to the 007 film Moonraker as she steers an entirely female lead Jason Bourne style action film.

Taking place in several global locations including Morocco, Norway and Budapest, Black Widow, which for all its narrative inconsistencies is absolutely saved by superb acting on the part of Scarlett Johansson, Florence Pugh and the really evil Russian villain, Dreykov superbly played by highly talented BAFTA Nominee Ray Winstone (Nil By Mouth; That Summer!) who is a sinister megalomaniac, who is paranoid about losing control of the sleeper international Black Widow program.

Winston mirrors French actor Michael Lonsdale’s performance as Hugo Drax in Moonraker.

For all the drama, both on and off screen, Black Widow is fantastic to watch, with some memorable female lead action sequences and gets a film rating of 8 out of 10.

See it now on the Big Screen and support Scarlett Johansson’s bid to recover her take of the Box Office earnings. Highly recommended viewing and way above standard for a Marvel film especially considering the talent involved.

Lunacy Prevails

Suicide Squad

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Director: David Ayer

Cast: Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Viola Davis, Joel Kinnaman, Jai Courtney, Jay Hernandez, Jared Leto, Cara Delevigne, Common, David Harbour, Scott Eastwood, Ezra Miller

After David Ayer’s impressively realistic war film, Fury, it was announced that he would be directing the highly anticipated and edgy superhero film, Suicide Squad.

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Assembling an international cast would be easy. Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Joel Kinnaman and Oscar nominee Viola Davis were all on board but the real casting coup was having Oscar winner Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club) play the Joker.

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Big crazy shoes to fill for Leto considering Oscar winner Heath Ledger did such a sterling job of playing The Joker in Christopher Nolan’s visually impressive The Dark Knight in 2008. And then there was Oscar winner Jack Nicolson’s wacky portrayal of Gotham’s most deranged villain in Tim Burton’s Batman back in the 1989.

So Suicide Squad is finally released with huge expectations including a brilliant trailer but is this new superhero film that mind-blowing? If viewers watch this film as a precursor for Warner Bros’s DC Comics expanding their cinematic universe following Batman versus Superman and the highly anticipated The Justice League to be released in 2017, then Suicide Squad will satisfy fanboys globally.

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What saves Suicide Squad is Margot Robbie’s exuberant performance as the psychopathic killer Harley Quinn who also happens to be The Joker’s deranged girlfriend.

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Equally good in Suicide Squad is Oscar nominee Viola Davis (The Help, Doubt) who plays a hard-nosed and ruthless head of a covert government organization and the brainchild behind assembling such a crazy bunch of humans and meta-humans to save Midway City, where the only bond tying the psycho killers together are a shared lunacy and the prospect of continued incarceration.

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What works against Suicide Squad is having such a young villain, model turned actress Cara Delevigne as the evil Enchantress whilst Leto’s crazy Joker has diminished screen time, but then again Leto is returning in The Justice League, so we shall see.

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Suicide Squad does lose the plot slightly, but as a superhero film especially with David Ayer at the helm, it could have been far edgier and definitely much sexier. This is where Deadpool got it right. If you are going to subvert the superhero genre do it properly especially with such a deranged cast of characters. The use of continued flashbacks in the narrative also detracts somewhat from the primary storyline.

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Despite the steam punk production design, Suicide Squad is not a brilliant film and certainly does not live up to its hype, but will be savoured by all superhero fanboys and if one views the film as a precursor to great things to come then it is outrageously entertaining. Audiences should definitely stay seated beyond the final credits.

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Unfortunately Will Smith and Joel Kinnaman seem to fumble in the film but that is primarily because they do not have sufficiently grittier and bloodier material to work with, a style which director David Ayer is more accustomed to.

See Fury to appreciate where Ayer’s real talent lies.

The Winter Hill Reign

Black Mass

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Director: Scott Cooper

Cast: Johnny Depp, Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch, Kevin Bacon, Adam Scott, Corey Stoll, David Harbour, Peter Sarsgaard, Dakota Johnson, Julianne Nicholson, Juno Temple.

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Crazy Heart director Scott Cooper brings to life a gripping and violent cinematic adaptation of the 2001 non-fiction book Black Mass: The True Story of an Unholy Alliance Between the FBI and the Irish Mob by Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neill based upon the exploits of Irish-American crime lord and fugitive James “Whitey” Bulger played with a menace not seen on screen since Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, by Oscar nominee Johnny Depp.

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Cooper assembles an all-star cast including Benedict Cumberbatch (The Fifth Estate) as Whitey Bulger’s brother and senator William Bulger, Joel Edgerton (The Great Gatsby, Warrior) in a career defining performance as conflicted FBI agent John Connolly, Dakota Johnson as James Bulger’s wife Lindsey and David Harbour (Quantum of Solace) as Connolly’s co-worker John Morris.

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Audiences should look out for Kevin Bacon as FBI boss Charles McGuire and a stunning cameo by Peter Sarsgaard (Blue Jasmine) as coked up Florida businessman Brian Halloran and Corey Stoll as the non-nonsense prosecutor Fred Whysak.

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James “Whitey” Bulger superbly played by Depp in his most menacing performance yet, is a pure psychopath whose relentless ambition is to rid his own South Boston gang, known as the Winter Hill gang not only of informants, who he casually kills at the drop of a hat but of their main opposition the Italian mafia in the form of the Angiulo Brothers which control North Boston.

Bulger and his band of thugs control South Boston and he soon becomes a so-called informant at the request of oily FBI agent Connolly whose childhood loyalty to Bulger is blinded by the real monster that Bulger has become. This is a man who strangles a prostitute with his bare hands, who casually shoots his friend in the head after a bar room altercation, yet will simultaneously sit down and play cards with his elderly mother. Insight in to the source of Bulger’s psychopathic behaviour comes from a line in Black Mass, when he admits to doing trials for LSD during an eight year prison stint in Alcatraz and Levenworth.

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The tipping point in Bulger’s blood thirst occurs when his young son unexpectedly dies from Reyes syndrome after an allergic reaction to aspirin. Bulger’s manipulation of his alliance with Connolly is brilliantly portrayed in Black Mass with Australian actor Joel Edgerton giving a remarkable performance akin to that of Matt Damon in Martin Scorsese’s The Departed.

Connolly is heavily beholden to Bulger and his professional and personal judgement suffers after his close association with such a violent mobster, highlighting the extent of corruption endemic in American cities in the 1980’s. Even Connolly’s wife Marianne played by Julianne Nicholson last seen in August: Osage County remarks on her husband’s new clothes and his flashy almost cocky swagger.

Joel Edgerton deserves an Oscar nomination for his role in Black Mass as does Johnny Depp, although at times the menace portrayed by Depp obliterates any audience empathy for his character. For James “Whitey” Bulger is a true psychopath, blood thirsty, unpredictable, paranoid and completely ruthless. Audiences should be warned of some exceptionally violent scenes in Black Mass, akin to Scorsese’s Goodfellas or Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs.

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Scott Cooper skilfully directs Black Mass and uses the multi-talented cast to bring to cinema the true story of American gangsters in South Boston in the 1970’s and 1980’s while remaining faithful to the source material, based on a meticulously researched screenplay by Jez Butterworth and Mark Mallouk.

Whether Black Mass will garner nominations in the upcoming awards season remains to be seen, but as a film it is worth watching and brilliantly acted. Highly recommended viewing for those that enjoyed Kill the Messenger and The Departed.

 

Romance of the Century

W./E.

Ravishingly told!

Ravishingly told!

Madonna’s directorial debut focuses on the stylish romance and subsequent marriage of King Edward VIII to swanky American divorcee Wallis Simpson in 1936 in the period drama W/E sparking the abdication of the King in one of the most scandalous romances of the 20th century. W/E also has a concurrent narrative of a Park Avenue socialite Wally Winthrop who after leaving her job at Sotheby’s Auction House in New York falls into a loveless and cruel marriage with a heavy-drinking and bitter psychiatrist played by Richard Coyle. In both instances Wallis Simpson, played by Andrea Riseborough and the fictional character of New Yorker Wally played by Australian actress Abbie Cornish suffer abuse by their violent  first husbands, Madonna attempts to highlight more the plight of privileged woman physically abused by powerful men.

Not that W/E is just about gender violence, but more about the romance and sacrifice that both King Edward VIII, known as David, played by James D’Arcy and Wallis Simpson enjoyed and endured as their love carried them through the abdication crisis, media scrutiny and lavish exile in France. Not to mention that both Edward and Wallis, who become the Duke and Duchess of Windsor were vilified in the American and British press in the years leading up to the outbreak of World War II for apparently being Nazi sympathizers following a prolific meeting with Hitler in 1937.

Naturally W/E should be seen as a lesser companion piece to the Oscar winning Tom Hooper film The King’s Speech focusing on King George VI also know as Bertie who had to cope with the abdication of his older more articulate brother Edward along with Britain’s eventual entry into World War II in September 1939. The last five years of the 1930’s was an extremely unstable period both politically and socially with many geopolitical changes  occurring rapidly with the military expansion of Nazi Germany in Europe and the impending threat of World War. During the war years the exiled Duke and Duchess of Windsor lived in the Bahamas where he was Govenor according to the fascinating life of Wallis Simpson – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wallis_Simpson

Benzedrine in the Champagne

Through historical footage, Madonna shows us not only the historical aspects of this period, but of the lavish and all together captivating love affair which occurred between Edward, the then Prince of Wales and the forthright American from Baltimore Wallis Simpson, as the couple become the darlings of the international Mediterranean party scene from Cannes to Portofino. The Prince of Wales offered gorgeous gifts of custom made Cartier crosses to his love, Wallis Simpson as they frolicked in the surf in the French Riviera. The dashing and charming Edward, who felt nothing of popping Benzedrine into guests Champagne glasses at a Belgravia midnight screening and soon got the party started  with Wallis Simpson, doing a particularly zany thirties jive with pearls flying and music blasting. In this fabulous party scene that W/E depicts Wallis and Edward as the epitome of celebrity chic, the opulent couple worshiped by the established international elite made up of wealthy Americans and Britons who made the French Riviera their fashionable playground.

The Sotheby’s Auction in New York

Whilst the second narrative of Wally befriending a Russian immigrant security guard Evgeni played by Oscar Isaac at the 1998 Sotheby’s  Auction of the gorgeous possessions of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor in New York that is lovingly fleshed out in the second part of W/E, it is really also just as significant since Wally eventually travels to Paris to fulfil her obsession with Wallis Simpson by requesting to read the Duchess’s private letters held by Mohamed Al Fayed at the Duke and Duchess’s former Parisian chateau near the Bois du Bologne,  father of Dodi who was killed along with Diana, the Princess of Wales in the fatal 1997 car crash in Paris a year before that makes this quest on Wally’s part both liberating and poignant.

Madonna’s real talent lies in her music but her hand as a director of such an interesting subject as the love affair between Wallis and King Edward should not be discounted as she focuses more on their lavish affair which become internationally known as the Romance of the Century.

From a feminist perspective, Madonna’s lavish film W/E is more about style than substance with engaging shots of New York and Paris, yet even the relevant character sketching scenes portray both the affluent Wally in 1998 and the stylish Wallace in 1936 as emblematic of how woman throughout the centuries no matter how gorgeously attired they are, can also become victims of physical violence and social scorn. The film is adequately assisted by a heart rendering musical score by Abel Korzeniowski and stylish costumes by Arianne Phillips and will appeal to all lovers of stylish period dramas.

*

Bond Exotically Reinvented…

 Quantum of Solace

A Novella about Playboys in the Bahamas

Ian Fleming’s short story of the Quantum of Solace is a far cry from its cinematic reinvention with only the thematic strain of revenge being retained. In the novella, James Bond hears a story whilst dining at the Governors mansion in the Bahamas of a man who marries an air hostess on a flight from Lagos, Nigeria to London and takes his new bride to Nassau where he is posted as a colonial official of the Caribbean island. Remember the story was written in the 1950’s when Britain’s colonial influence stretched far and wide. In the Bahamas the colonial civil servants new wife proceeds to have an affair with the wealthy local golf pro at the Country Club and when the seemingly mild husband finds out about his wife’s indiscretion, he takes revenge not only on his wife but also on her lover.

The strange term of a quantum of solace is as Fleming explains it when a man single handedly takes revenge for something or someone that has wronged him. So naturally whilst an idle gossip at a lavish dinner party would not really make an engaging Bond film, the theme of revenge certainly would. A 21st century Bond, the recognizable character of the most successful film franchise ever, who in every film has to reflect not only the decade but the popular tastes of a new generation of film goers?

The first Bond film was in 1962 and its now 2008, that is a lifetime in entertainment history. So as with Casino Royale, the newly cast Daniel Craig, a blond Bond continues the iconic role of superspy, hell bent on revenge for the mysterious organization responsible for the death of his first love, Vesper Lind who perished in the murky waters in Venice…

Quantum of Solace opens spectacularly with an intensive car chase, Italy and then after the retro opening credits (not designed this time by Maurice Binder), continues with a high-octane fight sequence in a Cathedral in Sienna culminating in a discovery that there was a breach in security in Mi6. Further technological investigation tracks down that the informant who Bond quite intently dispatches in Italy was working for the mysterious Quantum organization and was receiving funds from a front man in Haiti. As in all Bond films, James tracks the spy trial to another exotic location to find out who his real enemy is.

The Spy Trial continues

In a warehouse in Port-au-Prince, a Bolivian girl Camille played with a lethal panache by Ukrainian actress Olga Kurylenko, who if anyone managed to catch the film version of the PC game Hit man, would know that Olga is not shy when it comes to taking on gritty action roles. Camille is on her own personal quest for revenge and Bond soon meets the mild but manical villain Dominic Greene, a French-born environmentalist who has sinister plans for Bolivia. As with all Bond films, he follows the villain to a spectacular meeting in Berlenz, Austria, while during a stunningly contemporary production of Puccini’s Tosca, Greene reveals his sinister plans for Bolivia and South America as a whole. Interestingly it is the evil plans of every Bond villain that has always accurately reflected the time in which the films are made. If it was Moonraker, (1979) it was Drax’s conquest of space. If it was The World is Not Enough (1999)’s it was Renard’s control of the world’s supply of oil from Azerbaijan. In 2008, in a world very concerned about climate change and ecological transformation, in Quantum of Solace, it is Dominic Greene’s desire to control a continent’s water supply, that precious resource that like oil is also slowly dwindling away.

With Marc Foster, director of such captivating films as Finding Neverland, Monsters Ball and The Kite Runner, at the helm of Quantum, he brings a certain distinct aesthetic to the 22nd James Bond, Quantum of Solace, while retaining the dark undertones of blind revenge at all costs as much as solving the mystery of Vesper Lind’s death in Casino Royale. Quantum is a direct continuation of Casino Royale; the first time this sequential dedication has been used in the Bond franchise, so clearly those viewers who followed Casino Royale closely will enjoy Quantum of Solace.

Quite different from the usual Bond fare

A note of warning, this Bond film is more in the style of the Jason Bourne Trilogy and a far cry from those cavalier Bonds films of the Roger Moore era with his effortlessly wit and charm. Here Daniel Craig portrays a man set on revenge, taking no prisoners and not inclined to follow orders, while displaying a physicality and brutality quite brazen and skillfully managing to reinvent one of the longest running and suave filmic characters ever created. Ian Fleming would be proud were he alive today. In Quantum of Solace, the producers were truly appealing to a new 21st century generation of viewers making Bond much more physical, less charming and equally deadly. That was always the key to the success of all 22 Bond films was their ability to reinvent the formula to reflect the tastes of the cinema going audience of whichever decade was current. Obviously the stable ingredients of nasty villains, gorgeous Bond girls, exotic locations and loads of amazing action sequences were always part of that lucratively and wildly successful Bond franchise.

See Quantum for the car-chase sequence in Sienna, the Austrian opera scene and of course the final showdown at the gorgeous Dunes of Sands Hotel in central Bolivia, which is actually shot in the Atacama Desert in northern Chile.

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Don’t expect charm, but a degree of panache and watch out for some references to Goldfinger and some of the earlier 1960’s bond films, so popular with generation that adored Sean Connery as 007. In 2008, Quantum of Solace is no doubt, James Bond exotically reinvented for a new cinematic generation and in that respect the film achieves its aim, and has already grossed more money than Casino Royale

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