Lina Lamont

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

Archive for the tag “Chris Pine”

Wonder Woman – and yes, she is.

I’ll admit, when I first saw the Wonder Woman trailer, I was typically quick to judge and muttered (OK, I probably sneered) “Oh geez, hope I don’t have to review that”. Gal Gadot had been the underwhelming cherry on top of the underwhelming Batman v Superman debacle (which I actually hated less than most viewers), sucked into a tight dress and ridiculously eye-candyish for a supposed heroine who would go on to save superhero blockbusters from themselves.

Then I heard about the Women’s Only screenings in the States, and actually had a discussion with my feminist, cinephile husband about how I didn’t go in for that sort of thing, being the sort of woman who’d never really felt discrimination on the basis of my gender and all, and though that’s fine for some women if they want to be apart from men, we’d just go to a normal screening at our local multiplex and be done with it.

And so we went. And I settled into our perfectly-chosen, up-close-and-personal seats and relished not having to scribble notes/write a review/think about it afterwards, and began to let Wonder Woman wash over me.

And then, some time around the first major battle scene, I felt myself choke up, tears welling (although they did not fall) at the same time as I experienced a totally unexpected sense of elation. And I wished there were more women in the audience so I could “whoop!” at the top of my voice. Oh, the irony.

Wonder Woman

Here’s the thing. As a DC Comicbook adaptation, blockbuster, superhero movie, Wonder Woman is solid 4-star fare. Narratively, it droops just before the final act, as most over-long superhero movies do. But it has terrific performances from a varied cast headed by the aforementioned Israeli model-turned-actress, who effortlessly portrays her Amazonian ingenue as deliciously naive, yet feisty and principled, in a way that feels completely authentic and acceptable (to both female and male audiences). There’s the American Chris Pine (Star Trek) who suffers in real-life from being the least recognisable of all the Hollywood Chrises, but here proves he has at least as much comedy in him as “Thor” Hemsworth and “Captain America” Evans. We get a delightful cameo from Dawn-from-The-Office Lucy Davis, whose witty repartée with Gadot’s Diana Prince teases the age-old assumptions about women working under men. Scotsman Ewen Bremner puts his Trainspotting Spud to rest once and for all, while Moroccan Saïd Taghmaoui articulates what we’re all thinking – that Diana is the most beautiful woman you’ve ever seen – and for some reason that doesn’t feel offensive or clichéd – it just feels, well, true.

And that’s the other thing. There’s no denying Gadot is an exceptionally beautiful woman. Normally I would lament that Hollywood actresses had to be gorgeous; that strong female roles had also to be attractive to the male audience for which their movies were intended. That we were implicitly fat-shaming if we didn’t show women on screen who had actual thighs. (Go Amy Schumer! You may sport other dubious qualities in your efforts to show women as equal, but you have great, real-woman legs.)

But the other night, in my trance, I noticed, but didn’t object once as Diana would rear up from a fight with her lipstick still intact and mascara unsmudged. I let my female gaze caress her thigh gap (a feature I used to dream about, quite literally, and then wake up from that cruellest of nightmares to realise I was still denied). I ogled Robin Wright’s sinewy arms and evocative scar; I marvelled at the blonde body-waves and fishtail plaits that the Amazon women clearly still had time to perfect in between combat classes. I even started to wonder how I’d look in a Wonder Woman costume nowadays, remembering the paper cuffs Little Sarah made as a 5-year old, to run around the garden and force the neighbour’s boy to profess “I love you with all my heart”. (I rapidly decided the WW costume ship had sailed.)

So what of the overwhelming feeling of empowerment that surged through me as I watched all these women, but Diana in particular, kicking butt in a confident, accomplished manner? We’ve seen strong women before – The Bride in Kill Bill, Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games. Strong teenage girls who know how to handle themselves are two a penny in YA dystopian literature. What made Diana Prince different?

I’m still not sure, but I’ll tell you what I think. First off, the most surprising thing is apparently I’m not alone. Scarcely 12 hours ago this article was published online, and it would seem that Wonder Woman is not only making an impact due to its tangibly ground-breaking qualities (first female superheroine lead; in a film directed by a woman; not crap and forgettable like Catwoman or Elektra) but on an emotional level, too. And I think this has to do with how Wonder Woman has been written: in particular, her provenance, and her especially female world-view.

Unlike many of her admirable forebears, Diana Prince isn’t a strong woman who has to act like a man. She was raised in the absence of men, by confident women. She knows about the world (through being well-read) and she understands what matters, but she isn’t remotely jaded. Rather, she is open-eyed, open-minded, open-hearted. She goes into battle because it’s the right thing to do in order to stop the War and bring peace. She has no personal agenda. She never once sneers at anyone, not other women, not the baddest baddie. She cries. She cares. She coos over a baby. She enjoys trying on pretty dresses but she has to be able to do a high kick in them.

And she fights like a boss. I can’t remember what I felt watching Black Widow fight (probably very little, as I’m sure she received a sixteenth of the screen time in any of the Avengers movies) but when Diana and the other Amazonians slo-mo speed-ramp into a low-leg side-swipe or a bow-and-triple-arrow hit or Diana crosses a battlefield pinging bullets off her cuffs, Little Sarah’s heart leapt.

And Big Sarah’s going to go see it again.

 

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Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 19th January 2014

It’s hard to believe Alec Baldwin was the first celluloid Jack Ryan, back in the day when we still had celluloid and CIA agents still fought the Soviets (as in The Hunt for Red October), before Harrison Ford took up the mantle against the IRA in Patriot Games and later in Clear and Present Danger.

But when a forgettable Ben Affleck had a stab at the younger Ryan in 2002’s The Sum of All Fears, Ryan suddenly lost his foothold as the ultra-capable, smarty-pants CIA recruit to Affleck’s best mate, Matt Damon, who burst on to the spy thriller scene as Jason Bourne and has pretty much ruled the genre ever since.

Giving the franchise a reboot, Star Trek‘s Chris Pine plays the titular hero, studying clever-clogs things in London when 9/11 happens, and promptly chucking in his thesis to go fight in Afghanistan. (Asked why he requested such a low-level detail, he earnestly replies: “If I’m gonna serve, I’m gonna serve.”)

With Valour practically tattooed on his forehead, Ryan is plunged into a situation that sees Kevin Costner’s recruiter woo him with the usual “make a difference” come-ons that are thankfully tempered by Brit Kenneth Branagh’s restrained direction (also seen in his intelligent handling of Thor).

Fast forward a decade and, although an analyst with only three weeks’ field training under his belt, Ryan is tasked with assessing a new Russian threat to America. He heads to Moscow where, following a fantastic bathroom fight scene, things quickly get exciting and the tension remains high from then.

There are a few problems, and I don’t mean just with plot holes (surely Russian baddies shoot first and ask questions later?). Granted, Branagh knows better than to pump up the brass band and roll out the Stars & Stripes, but he can’t resist the cliches of the brutal, opera-loving Russian oligarch (played by Branagh himself) and scenes of shadowy figures peering into heavy Hollywood rain.

But it’s all enormous fun, and with Branagh and Keira Knightley maintaining their accents, Pine is left to flex his new muscles and deliver on the action-man goods once and for all.

Unsurprisingly, this latest Jack Ryan adventure seems to have learned a thing or two from both Bourne (the soundtrack and zippy editing) and the recent preponderance of superhero “origin stories”, taking us back to Ryan’s pre-sleuthing days and setting him up as the new go-to guy for terrorist attacks.

On the strength of his first outing, Bourne had better watch his back.

Star Trek Into Darkness – the review

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 5 May 2013

When J.J. Abrams (then best-known as creator of Alias and Lost, and with one Mission Impossible film under his belt) helmed the 2009 Star Trek movie, his nerves were swiftly soothed by critical acclaim and box office success.

The origin story, soon a must-have for all comicbook/sci-fi franchises, delighted audiences as it brought together an eclectic bunch of misfits to form the crew many knew so well. Even non-Trekkies grew up knowing about Captain Kirk and Mr Spock, and most childhood games involved doing the Vulcan salute as we vied to wear the mustard-coloured tunic. Director Abrams hit the jackpot with his fresh and individual take on the franchise, and novices and fanboys alike went home from the cinema happy.

However, the original thrill of seeing the young Spock (a perfectly cast Zachary Quinto), New Zealander Karl Urban as Dr “Bones” McCoy, and meeting the swaggering ladies man that is James Tiberius Kirk (Chris Pine) can’t be created twice. Now we need to be wowed by something completely new. Happily, four years on Abrams has got the band back together to put on another display of intelligent, innovative blockbusting.

Given Star Trek‘s history, its devoted following, and the intensity of speculation around this latest rendition of the Starship Enterprise‘s adventures into outer space, it’s best to keep this a spoiler-free zone. Let’s face it – a brief plot summary won’t help you decide whether to see this film – so let’s just say there is conflict, both interpersonal and martial, lives are thrown into jeopardy, grown men cry, laser guns zap, cities crumble, there is nerve-wracking teleportation and a lot of travelling at warp-speed, and the whole thing looks incredible.

As to be hoped from the chap who’s about to reprise the Star Wars behemoth, the alien worlds and life aboard the Enterprise are beautifully rendered, from the precision of the crew’s slightly square uniforms (who irons the crease into those trousers??) to the sensational heat-deflecting jumpsuits. Abrams’ trademark lens flares mark nearly every scene, immersing you in the fantasy.

It’s not, however, all about the aesthetic. Abrams and his regular screenwriters put heart into the first film, and care just as much about connecting with their human audience here. So it is exciting to drop down to planet Earth, where the depiction of a futuristic London (retaining much of the city’s historical beauty in a fascinating juxtaposition of then and now) brings the “reality” of deep space home to a world that is familiar to us.

Pine, Quinto and their gang reprise roles from the earlier film, some of them given little more than a metaphor to spout or a grumpy girlfriend to personify. However, the leads’ bromance has deepened since 2009, and much of the pathos comes from trying to get the half-human Vulcan to express emotion (though Spock’s unintended wit is undiminished: when Admiral Pike admonishes “Are you giving me attitude?” Spock replies: “I’m expressing multiple attitudes simultaneously. To which are you referring?”).

It’s the new faces who bring a thrill. RoboCop himself (Peter Weller) plays Admiral Marcus, while Sherlock‘s Benedict Cumberbatch brings his own special brand of purse-mouthed, British villainy to the role of interloper John Harrison, blindingly superb as something of a New-Romantic goth who requires only charisma and That Voice to invoke menace. Even the inexplicably dull casting of Alice Eve (nice hair, though) doesn’t detract from what’s great.

While possibly not as heartstring-tugging as Abrams purports, Star Trek Into Darkness is nonetheless a rollercoaster ride of laughs and gasps, spectacle and pathos. One can’t help but feel his next big project is in very safe hands – may the force be with him.

There’s something on the starboard bow (STAR TREK interview)

This interview first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 5 May 2013

It’s a hive of activity at the press junket for the new Star Trek Into Darkness movie, as publicists brandishing clipboards and stop-watches bustle about a plush hotel on Sydney’s waterfront. We print journos get the after-lunch slot, so by the time Zachary Quinto and Chris Pine enter the business suite, they’ve been performing for a full morning of filmed interviews. Zachary apologises for being sick (a cold caught on the plane from LA a few days prior) while Chris, more handsome in real life but less light-hearted than his character, perches on his seat with a slightly furrowed brow.

Compared with the rather low-key actors, director J.J. Abrams is a bundle of energy, gracious to a fault. “Thankyou, thank you so much, I really appreciate it” he says when I tell him that on the strength of what I’d seen in Into Darkness, his next project seems to be in safe hands. (Abrams is set to direct the latest Star Wars, amongst similarly high expectations from a zealous fanbase.)

We’re at the beginning of the Star Trek Into Darkness world tour, and in a few hours the talent will be attending the Australasian premiere before heading off to Russia, Germany, LA and ultimately London for the biggest shindig. More of the stars will jump aboard as the tour circumnavigates the globe, but Abrams, Quinto and Pine (along with New Zealander Karl Urban) are in it for the long haul.

Star Trek Into Darkness takes us to a time when Star Fleet is under terrorist threat, and the crew of the Starship Enterprise must set off on a voyage to right some wrongs. Pine reprises the role of ladies man Captain Jim Kirk, with Quinto returning as his right-hand man/Vulcan, Mr Spock. (At this point it is probably worth mentioning that while Pine looks just like his onscreen persona, Quinto is mercifully unrecognisable without the pointy ears and thick glossy fringe. I decide not to tell him though.)

Portraying characters who have been around for decades and are protected and revered by particularly fervent devotees takes some guts. How fine a line had to be walked between doing impersonations and creating one’s own take on the genre?

Abrams’ commitment to maintaining the essence of a legendary franchise is evident. “The approach to everything – look, design, casting, props – was to take the spirit of what was done nearly 50 years ago and do our version, but be true not to the letter but to the spirit,” he explains. In casting younger versions of such seminal characters, he gave his actors free reign. “I tried to cast people who were in the realm, but then say to them ‘This is yours – do not try to copy what he or she did, do your thing’.” Abrams compliments Pine’s ability to combine his “natural, wonderful swagger” with an appreciation of “the [William] Shatner vibe”. “It was a very careful tightrope walk but they all did it beautifully”, he says proudly.

Pine agrees that the freedom to interpret their roles provided a great sense of fun. “Because it [is] this alternate, other-dimensional universe, prequel situation, there were fantastic opportunities to nod and wink, to give especially the long term fans of the franchise these moments of connection and resonance and ‘Oh my God, I can see Shatner there, DeForest Kelley there’ – and I think that’s the fun of it.”

In the 2009 film Quinto’s role was all the more challenging for his having to act alongside his predecessor, Leonard Nimoy. Far from being intimidating, however, he says it actually helped. “We spent a lot of time together, and subsequently became incredibly close. He is such a magnanimous person that I only ever felt supported”. Acknowledging that Nimoy had consultation rights on the casting of the younger Spock, Quinto adds “It was comforting and reassuring to know I could use him as a resource that none of the other actors necessarily [had].” Then, sounding like his onscreen persona: “But there are certain qualities of the character that cannot be ignored or denied”. He says it was a challenge bringing his own experience and perspective to the role, helped by J.J’s clear mandate that this should be a fresh interpretation.

Both leading men are full of praise for their great leader, but you can’t help believing that someone with Abrams’ guileless enthusiasm really would be great to work with. Quinto describes him as “one of the foremost directors of our time. I think people will look back at him as a filmmaker who helped shape the direction of storytelling in this particular era, which is a unique convergence of technology and expectation of audiences, so to balance those two things requires a very talented and uniquely possessed individual”.

Indeed, Abrams comes across as the typical movie-struck lad who came to work in Hollywood and is making the most of every opportunity. However, Star Trek may seem an unusual offering to someone who didn’t grow up a fan. “With all respect to Trek” he admits, “I never really connected with it as a kid, and part of that might have been that I wasn’t sophisticated enough – I had friends who were very smart who loved it… There was something very talky and boring, frankly, for me”. However, in being given the project he was adamant he still wanted “scenes of real conflict and debate, so we have that in the movie but I didn’t want to do a drawing-room film in space”. He doesn’t see his renditions as a sci-fi project, but as a “movie about people who made me laugh, who I connected with, who happened to be on this crazy journey, this massive adventure”. He is therefore creating an experience as much for the ordinary filmgoer as the fanboys.

Despite his embrace of the technological and aesthetic opportunities of modern-day filmmaking, at the heart of all Abrams’ work is a yearning for connection – between his characters and with his audiences. Into Darkness sees people thrown into emotional turmoil, and the archetypally unemotional, such as Spock, forced to confront real human feeling. I note that at one point in the film Spock seems to give all men an “out” for not expressing themselves when he says “You are assuming that because I choose not to feel, I do not care”. Quinto says playing such a character, for whom emotion has to be pared down, presented both a challenge and a gifts. “Spock’s choice [not to feel] is reinforced by his genetic history and his culture and civilisation, and unfortunately human men don’t have the same shield to hide behind.” But there are various “triggers” in the story that bring about a need for Spock to confront aspects of himself he would have previous avoided. Certainly, these make for some of the more amusing, honest and touching moments in the film.

With all this touchy-feely stuff going on, viewers may be relieved to know there are still a few baddies to keep things dark. Notably, Benedict Cumberbatch, star of TV, stage and silver screen, appears as the (inevitably?) British-voiced villain, John Harrison. Cumberbatch would be a revelation if we didn’t already know he is incredible in everything he does, but it seems Abrams came late to the BC fan club, having a tape of Sherlock sent to him by his producer. Once he had watched it, however, the director knew he’d seen a star. “He’s off the charts”, Abrams enthuses. “He is so talented, and his work ethic I respect so much…His being around, everyone just had a slightly straighter back – it was amazing, you feel it, he’s like an alpha thespian, he comes in and you’re like “whoa”. He elevated every moment”.

Far from Hollywood-speak hyperbole, Abrams is right – Cumberbatch is utterly captivating, delivering a punch to what is already a terrific blockbuster adventure of the highest order. J. J. Abrams clearly takes his work seriously, and we can be glad he knows how to follow-up a hit with a wallop.

EPILOGUE:
At the end of our interview, Quinto apologised yet again for being snuffly so to put him at ease I told them both about Brandon Cronenberg’s new movie Antiviral, where in a not-too-distant future celebrity culture has gone so mad that fans purchase and are willingly infected with a celebrity’s illness. Both livened up on hearing this, and found it a fascinating conceit. I felt pretty chuffed to be able to tell people in the film industry about a movie they should see.

Nearly two weeks later, I’m still battling a cold.

This Means War

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star Times, 19th February 2012

Two CIA agents – best mates on and off the field – fall for the same girl and then fight over her.  Shaking hands on a gentlemen’s agreement (“no hanky panky”), the spies swiftly stoop to using the professional resources at their disposal to track their prey and eliminate the competition.

Despite initial misgivings about how Reese Witherspoon’s lovely Lauren could justify having two guys on the go at once, and my doubt that both men could possibly be convincingly attractive, This Means War rapidly caught, and suspended, my disbelief.  Chris Pine’s suave F.D.R is perfectly balanced by the naïve, British sweetness of Tom Hardy’s Tuck – and Witherspoon simply looks stunning in every scene, bringing back the slightly goofy girl from Legally Blonde without rendering her a simpering idiot.

Director McG (taking the one-name celebrity thing a little too far, methinks) cut his teeth on the Charlie’s Angels movies, evident in the respect shown for his female lead, and his casting of brilliant comedienne Chelsea Handler as the sassy best friend (hilariously confused for Witherspoon’s mother by a gun-toting baddie).  It’s the best bit of silliness we’ve seen in a long time, and utterly enjoyable escapism.  If only online dating really was this rewarding.

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