Lina Lamont

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

Archive for the tag “Carey Mulligan”

Far From the Madding Crowd

A couple of centuries before plucky young Katniss Everdeen fought to the death in The Hunger Games, her namesake ploughed the furrow of female independence in Thomas Hardy’s classic novel Far from the Madding Crowd.

The curiously-named Bathsheba Everdene (played by the luminous Carey Mulligan) has not just three romantic suitors to ward off – disconcertingly, one proffers a lamb and a proposal within moments of meeting her – but a successful farm to get on and run, if only the village’s misogynists would let her. Oh, it’s hard to be a woman in rural 1870s England.

Bathsheba’s romantic travails have been brought sumptuously to the screen by Danish director Thomas Vinterberg, whose previous film The Hunt had a kindergarten teacher (a sensational Mads Mikkelsen) tackling the distrust of his close friends and community after he is accused of child abuse. Happily, Vinterberg has moved into slightly less confronting pastures for his follow-up, directing a wonderful English-speaking cast which includes Michael Sheen, Tom Sturridge and the Belgian Matthias Schoenaerts (Rust and Bone) whose impressive English accent renders him a convincing Gabriel Oak.

Mulligan’s natural grace and poise contributes in large part to this being a beautifully photographed, well-acted and thoughtfully constructed piece of filmmaking, pitch-perfect in narrative tone and musical soundtrack. Bathsheba’s predicament, such as it is, could risk looking trivial and fatuous to a modern-day audience who knows that choosing a husband is not the path to success (a lesson Bathsheba’s descendant strong female characters, Katniss and Bella, could perhaps learn from). But we learn early on that this businesswoman would be happy enough to be a bride, if only there was no husband at the end of it. Unable to take criticism or frank opinion, Bathsheba has character in spades.

Scripted by David Nicholls (whose work on Starter for Ten and One Day proved a knack for novel adaptations), Hardy should be pleased that his heroine’s honour is in safe and respectful hands.

Skylight

Sadly not fulfilling the promise of its leads, this National Theatre Live production of David Hare’s play Skylight boasts Bill Nighy, Carey Mulligan and theatrical box office success which unfortunately does not translate to the big screen.

The audience (live and cinematic) is plunged into the dingy council flat occupied by well-meaning teacher Kyra whose affair with the much older Tom (Nighy) ended abruptly in devastating circumstances some years prior. Two hours of recriminations and shouting later, you may find you don’t care for either character, which is a shame as both share truths which could resonate, or at least explain their chosen paths.

I believe the play may well have been stunning in real life, and NT Live typically delivers the crème de la British theatrical crème to us Antipodeans, so your hopes may be rightly raised. But extreme close-ups are not optimum for performances delivered to the back row of the Wyndham Theatre, and instead Nighy’s histrionics and Mulligan’s pain-faced annunciations fail to do these great actors justice.

Inside Llewyn Davies

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 23rd February 2014

Despite having grown up watching MGM musicals where the multi-talented stars could sing and dance as a matter of course, it’s still a thrill nowadays when contemporary actors suddenly belt out a tune, using their own voice in a way that elevates them above their Hollywood peers.

And so the revelation that is Oscar Isaac (Sucker Punch, Agora – I know, right, who knew?) takes the stage/screen as the Coen brothers’ latest schlump of a protagonist in this delightfully downbeat tale of a musician whose talent may be appreciated more by his cinematic audience than the record producers he so desperately needs to impress.

Llewyn’s gone solo – not that he sold many records when he had a duo – but what with keeping tabs on his friends’ cat and finding a couch to crash on throughout a bitterly cold New York winter, his lacklustre approach to getting back on the folk music horse doesn’t look promising. Plus, he’s in big trouble with fellow singer Jean (Carey Mulligan, as livid as we’ve ever seen her, and also singing for real as she did so beautifully in Shame).

As in every Coen odyssey, Llewyn’s everyman travails are resonant enough that any viewer would offer up their coat, but it’s the people he encounters who provide the spice in the story. Llewyn’s half-hearted attempts at living life bring him into contact with a series of amusing characters, notably stalwart John Goodman (seemingly having borrowed Javier Bardem’s toupee from No Country for Old Men) and Adam Driver from Girls whose star just gets brighter and brighter as he donates his lovely bass tones to an hilarious rendition of “Please Mr Kennedy”. Throw in a square, bearded Justin Timberlake who just can’t quell his inherent charisma even when he’s a supporting player, and it’s clear the Coens’ new guard is as brilliant as the Macys and Buscemis of yore.

Aesthetically, the film is a dream – a smoky, grey, 1960s winter peopled with period faces and dowdy costumes, punctuated by Llewyn’s brown corduroy jacket and Dylanesque stoop. (Indeed, much of the production design evokes Dylan’s record covers and there are other blatant musical nods to the era with mention of one character’s being stationed in Germany with “Private Presley”.)

While not as plot-driven as No Country, True Grit or Fargo, Llewyn’s road trip from one Big Smoke to another is engrossing thanks to its strong investment in character and the pleasure to be had from recognising the nods to previous Coen films. Accompanied by a delightful folky soundtrack, you’ll want to get inside Llewyn Davis’ world and stick around even after the film is over.

The Great Gatsby

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 2nd June 2013

As our narrator Nick Carraway recounts his woeful tale of alcoholism and melancholy to a therapist, his story necessarily revolves around meeting the enigmatic Jay Gatsby, whom he describes as being “the single most hopeful person I’ve ever met”.

I like to think I’m a bit like Gatsby – not the extremely wealthy, party-throwing bit, but the part of me that feels compelled to go where other critics have disdained to tread, and highlight what actually works in this glitzy, flawed, delirious, inconstant rendition of the classic American novel.

Adapted for the silver screen by Australian ringmaster Baz Luhrmann, who polarised audiences with Romeo+Juliet and Moulin Rouge, it’s little surprise that he and his co-producer/costume/production designer wife were enticed by the swingin’ 20s’ decor, jazz music and sheer lust for life.

Luhrmann captures this beautifully, lighting the film like a Gene Kelly classic with swooping photography, exquisite close-ups and (initially, at least) a frantic pace that mimics the fervour of the Charleston. Even the contentious inclusion of Jay-Z’s contemporary soundtrack is more subtle than feared, with a swinged-up version of his wife’s “Crazy in Love” and ballads from the best of today’s languid songstresses. Granted, however, it is the old-school “Rhapsody in Blue” that proves an ecstatic musical highlight.

For those who didn’t study it in high school, The Great Gatsby follows Carraway (Tobey Maguire), a young man of relative means who falls in with a wealthy crowd of what would today be known as Long Islanders (fictionally the New York outpost of West Egg). His mysterious neighbour holds extravagant parties incognito, and as Carraway becomes his friend and confidant, it becomes clear that the fraudulent Gatsby’s heart is as full of longing as his cellars are full of champagne. Carraway gets caught in a crossfire of several doomed love affairs, before things descend into tragedy.

It is a terrific story, even by today’s standards, when we already know that being rich doesn’t buy you friends, and being beautiful doesn’t make you honourable (I’m talking to you, Daisy Buchanan, even if you are played to perfection by the sublime Carey Mulligan). Appropriately, Gatsby’s smile which, as writer F Scott Fitzgerald memorably describes, “understood you just so far as you wanted to be understood, believed in you as you would like to believe in yourself”, comes as naturally to matinee idol Leonardo DiCaprio as the furrowed brow on Mulligan’s frivolous face. If their chemistry is slightly lacking, it speaks more to Gatsby’s uptight stance than their failing as actors.

Maguire, by comparison, starts off jarringly ridiculous in a display of acting that seems more like a series of reaction shots. His trademark dopey voiceover is annoying until he gets drunk at an illicit party and starts to wise up, but throughout he is overshadowed by gutsier types like Joel Edgerton (stalwart of Aussie crime dramas) who holds his own against the Hollywood stars as arrogant philanderer Tom Buchanan.

But, unfortunately for Luhrmann and his regular screenwriter, Craig Pearce, while Fitzgerald’s novel is wonderful to read, its charm is arguably more in the telling than the showing. In being so faithful to the trajectory of the plot (for what choice had they?), they somehow allow the third act to lag where, by rights, it ought to sizzle.

It’s a shame, because the story’s pathos lies in Gatsby’s lonely little boy persona, he who gives his toys away for friendship, yet looks aghast when a favour is granted for free.

Instead, Luhrmann’s caravanserai of colour and noise simply lumbers on through town, resulting in a film that will be remembered as an over-the-top adaptation that leaves you feeling underwhelmed, and decidedly empty.

He put in such a good effort, it feels unfair to lay the blame for the blah at Luhrmann’s feet. But it clearly shows there is a little bit of Gatsby in him, too.

Never Let Me Go

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star Times, 13 March 2011

Kazuo Ishiguro’s 1995 novel plays with notions of freewill – only in his story, the characters don’t seem to have any, and are entirely bound by their fates.  Adapted for the screen by Alex Garland (The Beach, 28 Days Later), Never Let Me Go is sensitively directed by Mark Romanek, a music video maker who, given the quality source material and star-studded cast, may feel his own career trajectory has slipped onto a parallel rail.

Ishiguro is best known for stories where love is felt deeply but suffocated by circumstance and repression (as in the Academy Award winning Remains of the Day).  Here, Kathy (Carey Mulligan) is at boarding school with friends Ruth (Keira Knightley) and Tommy (The Social Network’s Andrew Garfield), experiencing a seemingly happy childhood, if you don’t notice the distinct lack of family or freedom to leave the school grounds.  The revelations unfold in a completely unexpected way, belied by the story’s post-war, middle England setting – but while the audience may be shocked, the characters are by their nature much more accepting.

And herein lies the film’s rub.  Mulligan’s warm, focused performance leads us through Kathy’s story, the pain at watching her friends’ developing romance, and the trio’s anxiety about their mortal predicament.  The characters, however, don’t wear their hearts on their sleeves.  While a necessary, and therefore clever, mechanism, this deprives the audience of the heart the movie is so clearly concerned with.

Spending ev’ry dime

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps

Among this film’s many incomprehensible clichés dressed up as witty truisms, Gordon Gekko says (and I’m paraphrasing – because frankly this was so incomprehensible and inherently unwitty, I have to break it down for you) – “Money is a bitch of a woman – she watches you sleeping, with one eye open, and you have to give her the attention she wants otherwise one day you’ll wake up and she’ll be gone”.

Huh?

Director Oliver Stone’s original Wall Street starred an as-yet unsullied and unlaughable Charlie Sheen as a young trader who makes millions, lives the high life, gets a conscience, and brings down the big guy (Michael Douglas).  Despite its mid-80s look ‘n’ feel, it’s still watchable and enjoyable in 2010, if only for the sake of living vicariously the lives of the disgustingly rich and Machiavellian for two hours.  And then shaking off the mucky feeling one gets from reading trashy celebrity magazines and coveting material possessions one doesn’t need.  Well, that’s just me.

Imagine my excitement when the trailer screened earlier this year: a haggard Gordon Gekko being released from eight years in prison – the warder details the belongings he went in with – a gold watch; a money clip with no money; a mobile phone… and with a clunk, the classic retro “brick” is placed on the counter.  Gekko walks out with fellow releasees, sees a limo drive up, goes to climb in – and is pipped at the post by a young African American in hip-hop street gear.  Gordon’s face says it all – what is this world he’s returning to?

It turns out his world is one of “frugal” living in a penthouse apartment overlooking Manhattan, a nonexistent relationship with his daughter Winnie (latest English rose, Carey Mulligan, accent wavering), and the attentions of Winnie’s fiancé, Wall Street trader Jake (the dashing Shia LaBeouf, doing his best with mature material but still in my view far too young and unconvincing for the role).  Gordon wants back in Winnie’s life; Jake wants in on Gordon’s expertise.

Apparently Oliver Stone and his crew wrote this film as the 2008 GFC (Global Financial Crisis – keep up now) shattered the jaw of the worldwide banking industry.  I thought this was ingenious – bring back Gordon Gekko as a harbinger of doom, a Sybil that (of course) everyone ignores.  Watch it all go up in smoke.

But instead the film is a mish-mash of complicated (and dull) dialogue about stocks and trades and hedgefunds or something, made “simple” for us non-bankers by use of a split-screen (in case we can’t keep up with who the characters are, and need to be shown who Jake is on the phone to) and fancy computer imagery of fusion energy and… um, they lost me there.  Not that I cared.  What about Jake and Winnie?!  Will she mind he’s been secretly meeting her dad?  Has Gordon’s leopard really changed his spots?  What’s weird about Shia’s hairline??

Stone obviously pulled in a good cast – we get cameos from Susan Sarandon, Frank Langella, and the return of Sylvia Miles as the realtor who lets Jake his apartment (having rented to Charlie Sheen back in 1987).  Josh Brolin, doing well with a 2-dimensional character and boring dialogue, plays the baddy.  Probably one of the most exciting moments (which says it all) was Sheen’s Bud Fox turning up at a fundraiser with two girlfriends.  Nice to see art imitating life.

While I expect so much from Oliver Stone, having been a big fan of JFK, Platoon and even Natural Born Killers (well, it was very of its time), this film disappointed on many levels.  It is flabby and overlong, completely unexciting, and there is nothing at stake for anyone (some of the father-daughter scenes bordered on emotional, but were then dampened by subsequent goings-on).  The real-life chemistry of Mulligan and LaBeouf had some beautiful moments, but couldn’t save the heartlessness of the story.  Probably my greatest annoyance is reserved for the appallingly inappropriate score – a combination of lacklustre David Byrne and Brian Eno songs, and composer Craig Armstrong rehashing his music from 1999’s Plunkett & Macleane (“original music”, my eye).  Never has a movie about stocks and bonds had greater need of some Hans Zimmer to tell us when the stakes are high and lives are in peril.

Incredibly, the film opened today in the States as well as here in NZ (wow! I feel unusually on the ball).  Just in time, then, for me to manage people’s expectations.  I can’t predict how much this will make worldwide, but I suggest Stone sleeps with one eye open to ensure his Money doesn’t walk out in the middle of the night.

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