Posts Tagged ‘Olga Kurylenko’

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.

Chechen Revenge

November Man

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Director: Roger Donaldson

Cast: Pierce Brosnan, Luke Bracey, Olga Kurylenko, Bill Smitrovich, Lazar Ritovski, Eliza Taylor, Will Patton, Patrick Kennedy, Caterina Scorsone

Former Bond actor Pierce Brosnan (Die Another Day, Goldeneye) resuscitates the spy genre with former Bond girl Olga Kurylenko (Quantum of Solace) in the convoluted yet sophisticated thriller November Man directed by Australian Roger Donaldson (The Recruit).

As the action moves from a botched assassination in Montenegro by CIA rookie David Mason, played by Australian actor Luke Bracey to Switzerland where retired CIA operative Devereaux is languishing in a café in Lake Lausanne who is soon thrust back into the murky world of Eastern European counter espionage as he has to investigate a rising Russian politician who has been accused of Chechen war crimes.

As the plot unfolds for November Man based upon the novel There are No Spies by Bill Granger Devereaux finds himself in Belgrade, Serbia protecting Alice Fournier played by Kurylenko who was a social worker to a Chechen refugee Mira who witnessed this Russian beaurocrat Arkady Federov played by Lazar Ritovski start a war in Chechnya http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chechnya to extract oil for Russian interests. Except like in most spy novels and never as elegantly told as a John le Carre story, there are numerous twists in this espionage tale.

With November Man, Brosnan still has that muscular gritty edge which got him the part of James Bond back in the mid 1990’s and the dynamic between him and his young CIA protégé Mason played by Bracey (G.I. Joe: Retaliation) makes for interesting and intense viewing, coupled with loads of actions sequences, an unexpectedly high body count and sufficient plot twists which involves a crooked CIA agent and a deadly Russian assassin.

Whilst there are aspects of November Man which are stylistically and logistically questionable, director Donaldson keeps the gritty realist spy genre grounded and evenly paced, similar to the hugely successful Bourne movies. This is Spy Games without the megalomaniacs and lavish liars seen in such films as Moonraker and Tomorrow Never Dies.

This is Brosnan in the autumn of his career in a sort of retired Jack Reacher mode seen in several dubious locations. Let’s face it Belgrade isn’t exactly Venice or Paris, yet Donaldson does make use of the locations in one of Europe’s oldest capital’s especially  tapping into Serbia’s bloody and controversial history as part of the former Yugoslavia which plays well into the Balkan backstory of dodgy Russian politicians committing atrocities in the Caucuses.

Not as slick as the Bourne movies or as glamourous and inventive as the Bond films, but November Man still proves that there is longevity in the spy genre, one in which Hollywood seems to have relinquished.

November Man is recommended viewing for those that like compelling action, lots of violence and an unscrupulous spy game whereby no one appears innocent. Ukrainian beauty Olga Kurylenko is suitably fabulous in her home territory especially in the seduction sequence at a swanky Belgrade hotel.

 

Temple of the Infinite Gods

Oblivion

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The undeniable truth about Tom Cruise Sci-Fi movies is that he doesn’t really star in a bad film. Like the success of  the riveting 2002 Steven Spielberg film Minority Report, Oblivion is a glossy 21st century version of 2001 a Space Odyssey with gorgeous cinematography by Claudio Miranda (who won an Oscar for Life of Pi) and a very tantalizingly post-modern narrative involving Jack Harper played by Cruise and his effective team member Victoria played by Andrea Riseborough (W/E) who live in a post apocalyptic earth high above the carnage in a swish pent house resembling Bespin Cloud City from The Empire Strikes Back and whose job in 2077 is to look after huge hydroelectric plants which are converting the earth’s ocean energy to be used towards the future colonization of one of Saturn’s more inhabitable moons as Earth is no longer entirely livable.

Oblivion through some stunning production designs sets up a seemingly post apocalyptic planet in which scavengers have invaded and attacked the moon causing much havoc with the world and the tidal systems, and once where there were cities lies a wasteland. Except that Jack Harper whose memory has been wiped clean of the apocalypse has flashbacks of a meeting with a mysterious woman, Julia subtly underplayed by Olga Kurylenko (Quantum of Solace), at the base of the Empire State Building sixty years earlier back in 2017, pre-apocalyptic New York City. Themes of liberty and the eternal struggle of the human spirit against insurmountable odds is beautifully explored in Oblivion and as the film progresses, one gets the feeling that this is a three act Scientology inspired opera on the Infinity of Space.

As Jack and Victoria report to a distant projected screened image of Sally, their supervisor, played with a Southern drawl by Melissa Leo on the orbiting space station Tet, one gets the sense of something sinister occurring much like the omniscient spaceship computer Hal 9000 in Stanley Kubrick’s groundbreaking 2001: A Space Odyssey.

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Without giving away too much of the plot twists, and in Oblivion there are many, Tron Legacy director Joseph Kosinski’s existential version of the Odyssey is superb to watch and whilst the film is evenly paced, the last act of the film, in which many narrative threads are elegantly woven together, Oblivion clearly appears as a cinematic pastiche of all successful Sci-Fi films from the last four decades from Star Wars to The Matrix trilogy to the Mad Max movies.

Not as tightly woven as Ridley Scott’s Prometheus, Oblivion is a gorgeously slick odyssey to the Temple of the Infinite Gods namely in outer space with a huge amount of twists and certainly shows that Cruise at the age of nearly 51 still has what it takes to carry such an inventive and intriguing science fiction cinematic fantasy. Oblivion is worth watching especially for serious Sci-Fi fans! Also stars Morgan Freeman  as the mysterious Beech sporting a huge cigar in a sadly underwritten cameo and Danish actor Nikolaj Coster-Waldau who plays Sykes also familiar as Jamie Lannister in the hit HBO series Game of Thrones.

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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