Lina Lamont

"What do you think I am, dumb or something?"

Archive for the tag “Bradley Cooper”

Burnt

When choosing famous people to have to a dinner party, you want to ensure the big-personalitied celebrity chefs stay strictly in the kitchen. Burnt reinforces every suspicion we’ve ever had from reading the biographies of Michelin-starred virtuosi and watching Masterchef – that talent and a warm, laidback character seldom go together.

Bradley Cooper plays Adam Jones – a brilliant chef who burnt every bridge in Paris after a decade-long ascent through the industry and then sent himself into purgatory to pay penance by shucking a million oysters before pursuing a second chance. Now clean, sober and ready to make amends, he tips up in London where he ruthlessly unseats erstwhile colleagues in an attempt to open the best restaurant in town. Like Ramsey and Bourdain, Jones suffers no fools, prompting some effectively uncomfortable moments in the kitchen as he upbraids his staff. Well, you can’t make a restaurant movie without breaking some eggs.

Director John Wells (August: Osage County, The Company Men) throws the zippy, energetic script up onto the screen in the same manner Jones hurtles imperfect dishes into the trash. The multicultural supporting cast includes a surprisingly excellent Sienna Miller, who cooks like she’s a seasoned professional, Frenchman Omar Sy (The Intouchables) and a reliable Daniel Bruhl (one step from being typecast as the Grumpy European following his portrayal of Niki Lauda in Rush). Add a sprinkling of the superb Matthew Rhys from Brothers & Sisters and you have a perfectly balanced meal.

But this is Cooper’s kitchen, and Jones’ relentless pursuit of a third Michelin star has that can’t-look-away quality as he snarls “You lack arrogance” at a young mentee, and puts down rivals with bitchy jibes about the quality of their cooking. Adding weight to his already impressive CV, and the international flavour of the film, Cooper also gets to flex his French-speaking muscle with aplomb.

Once the rather expository dialogue is dispensed with during the entrée, the film’s main course is delivered hot and fast, with beautiful cinematography of London the palate cleanser between scenes. Jones’ galling arrogance may be distasteful to some diners, but the lively and engaging plating ensures Burnt is an undeniable crowd-pleaser.

 

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American Sniper

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 18th January 2015

It gives one an uneasy feeling when a film like American Sniper opens in the US on Christmas Day. It’s a double-spaced, large font biopic of Chris Kyle, the Navy SEAL sniper who earned the legend “the most lethal sniper in US military history” after he notched up more than 160 kills during four tours of Iraq. As unsavoury as that may sound, you need a Kyle in your battle because he’s the one who picks off the bad guys who are out to get your (good – obviously) guys. The bowing and scraping by Kyle’s fellow troops at the frontline demonstrates how lauded he was.

As directed by Clint Eastwood (still in the game at age 84), Kyle’s trajectory from gun-toting Texan son of a no-nonsense father to appalled patriot as planes fly into the Twin Towers is a pretty by-numbers account. Eastwood is an all-American, flag-flying, meat-and-three-vege filmmaker, and although some scenes dip into the excitement inevitable in a Middle Eastern Conflict Movie, American Sniper is largely routine and unaffecting.

Eastwood has had a long career behind the camera, with the odd winner (Million Dollar Baby) amongst a stream of solid stories which all fall short of extraordinary. (If Mystic River is the exception in this sea of blandness, it’s entirely down to Sean Penn’s performance.)

Bradley Cooper, regular Oscar nominee and Hollywood flavour du jour, performs admirably as the stocky-necked Kyle, simple-minded in his determination to fight for his country and then paralysed by undiagnosed PTSD on each return from duty. Cooper is great, to the extent we believe his Kyle to be a man with a good side (loving husband to Sienna Miller’s pained brunette, caring if not effusive father of two) as well as a keen eye and trigger finger. But Kyle’s inner torment must be explained to us, time and again, through Miller’s fruitless criticism. We’ve seen this all before in the far superior Homeland. We’ve also seen much more gripping battle scenes in nearly every Iraq/Afghanistan War movie from The Hurt Locker to Restrepo.

This uncomplicated movie is complicated by its complete moral ambiguity. Granted, Eastwood isn’t telling us to applaud or abhor Kyle’s actions. Unfortunately, neither does he give us anything to care about.

I can’t speak for homeland Americans, but New Zealand audiences may be unmoved by the patriotism of Kyle’s exploits. Three well-edited set-pieces scarcely quicken the pulse, and because our “hero” and his “baddies” are so one-dimensional, we are left with nothing and no one to invest in.

The Place Beyond the Pines

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 7th July 2013

Two years ago we raved about director Derek Cianfrance’s labour of love, the devastatingly exquisite Blue Valentine which he’d taken ten years to make, culminating in one of the best performances you’ll ever see from Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams.

Happily, Cianfrance took a fraction of that time to bring us his second feature film and, re-teaming with Gosling and lavishing us with an incredible supporting cast and music by Arvo Pärt and Faith No More’s Mike Patton, his latest output is almost as brilliant.

Gosling plays an imperfectly tattooed, motorcycle stunt rider, still handsome as his knuckles purport, but a drifter whose life lacks purpose until he discovers he fathered a child with ex-girlfriend Romina (Eva Mendes, Gosling’s real-life belle). Determined to stick around and prevent his newfound son growing into the fatherless delinquent he became, Luke takes to bank robbery as a way to support his family. However, his choices bring him into tragic contact with Bradley Cooper’s ambitious young cop, and as the story progresses we see how family lines are influenced and fractured by the sins of our fathers.

The principal storyline is as beautifully photographed and told as Blue Valentine, moving apace through an exciting plot as each new character takes centre stage. Cooper is terrific, his moral compass needle swinging wildly as he comes into contact with a stomach-turning Ray Liotta. Ben Mendelsohn, Bruce Greenwood and Dane DeHaan provide excellent support, glueing together what almost feels like three stories into one long thread.

Despite a few plot contrivances and the long running time, Cianfrance’s latest is luscious, affecting and utterly engrossing.

The Hangover Part III

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 26th May 2013

The Hangover
movies tattooed their own mark onto the face of movie history, and though it’s always hard to “bring it!” with the third movie, at least in this instance the posters reassure us this slightly weary follow-up is The End.

Following an opening scene highway “incident” and a family “tragedy” (well, this is an irreverent comedy, so let’s not over-egg it), the lads we know and hopefully still love get together to stage an intervention. On the way to deliver Alan to rehab to cure him of his spoilt little rich-kid ways, the theme from Midnight Cowboy augurs badly for what’s to come, and before you can say “John Goodman!”, in typical Hangover style, once the wheels come off, things go rapidly from bad to worse.

The inevitable game of cat-and-mouse that has formed the plot of this trilogy now gives centre stage to Ken Jeong’s Mr Chow, the straight-faced, crude-talking, angry little man with the squeaky voice. Barring a few off-colour lines that plummet, Chow is the biggest character in the movie and Jeong pulls out all the stops. By comparison, Bradley Cooper and Ed Helms sit in the backseat while the in-joke continues that Justin Bartha’s Doug spends most of the film kidnapped and off-screen.

As usual, Zach Galifianakis steals the show as the intensely misguided Alan, and it’s a delight this time round that he meets his romantic match in Melissa McCarthy’s pawnshop worker. Their scene together is a masterpiece of how to nail the mix of mockery and eye-wetting sincerity.

There’s not quite the hilarity (or, mercifully, the gross-outness) of the first film, but director Todd Phillips knows how to deliver entertainment dressed in sensational photography and a great soundtrack. If you travel second class, this last hurrah is worth the ride. Oh, and do stick around till the very end.

The Words

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star Times, 7th October 2012

The Words has a terrific premise, a great cast, and that kernel in all good storytelling – the moral dilemma. Regrettably, this potential winner manages to trip up as it takes to the dance floor, and then throws in some pretty odd moves. But first, let’s focus on what works.

Delivering a story within a story of a story, each of the authors tells his tale in flashback. Dennis Quaid is a successful writer celebrating the launch of his latest novel. It concerns a struggling writer (Bradley Cooper) who happens upon an old manuscript, passes it off as his own, and is then showered with critical acclaim. Cooper is, as ever, dashing and sympathetic as the protagonist. He has a beautiful, supportive girlfriend (Zoe Saldana, who has much more to her than the blue skin of Avatar, and here gets to inject a real character with authentic feeling). But we all know the plagiarist can’t get away with his dirty secret, and it’s the gradual unravelling of his world which makes for an enthralling watch.

The supporting cast includes a menacing Jeremy Irons and a cameo by writer-director Brian Klugman (how many more layers do we need?). But when disturbed by the parallel thread of Quaid’s sleazy, narcissistic luminary and a mysterious acolyte (Olivia Wilde), the film is thrown off course. Quaid is seldom likeable in any film, and Wilde batting her eyes isn’t enough to convince that he’s attractive. Something is afoot, but the denouement leaves you feeling distinctly gypped.

Hit and Run

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star Times, 9th September 2012

Knowing nothing about it before the opening titles rolled, having seen neither poster nor trailer, Hit and Run promptly socked me between the eyes and left me swooning – head over heels in love.

It opens with a beautiful, moving, heartfelt pep-talk between two lovers.  Annie and Charlie have been dating for a year, though they treat one another with the touching sensitivity of a couple still living the opening bars of love’s great symphony.  She has a doctorate in non-violent conflict resolution and a career path which is about to bring the couple to a crossroads.  He’s – well, it’s not immediately clear, but Charlie seems to have some big secret that will explain his odd relationship with the trigger-happy, angst-ridden Randy (nice to see Tom Arnold back again).  Part of the charm of this madcap tale is that it leads us on a merry dance (rapidly turning into a road trip/ escapade across America, with baddies in hot pursuit), and as an audience we don’t know our destination until we get there.

Our Pied Piper is a charismatic, genuine, sensitive-new-age-guy-with-an-alter-ego-in-his-past played by Punk’d’s Dax Shepard.  Kristen Bell (Forgetting Sarah Marshall) plays it just as light against Shepard’s naturalistic, oft-improvised performance, and given he wrote and co-directed the film, no doubt the couple’s real-life relationship leaked somewhat into its creation.

Glee’s Kristin Chenoweth appears as the crass-talking school supervisor full of good advice.  Having cast old friends Bradley Cooper (dreadlocked and complex in his moral judgements) and Arnold, for once this film is as enjoyable to watch as it must have been to make.

It’s not about the plot, which merely provides the mechanics on which to balance a snappy script and some playing-against-type by the leads.  But by turns hilarious, silly, honest and violent, Hit and Run is a gleeful update on the True Romance date movie, where even burnouts are romantic.

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