Lina Lamont

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

Archive for the tag “Colin Firth”

Bridget Jones’ Baby

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, September 2016

M
122 mins
3 stars

To be fair to Bridget Jones, this sequel presents a valid justification for reviving her brand. Unlike the recent “Absolutely Fabulous: Regeneration” movie (absolutely unnecessary, more like), and the recast update on the decades old Dad’s Army, the latest installment of Bridget’s Slings and Arrows of the Terminally Unmarried comes with a great conceit: at 43, she finds herself unexpectedly up the duff, but doesn’t know whether the father is the former love of her life, Mark Darcy (Colin Firth), or a dashing algorithm billionaire played by Patrick Dempsey.

Which should she bet on? The Fresh Start or the Old Times’ Sake? Director Sharon Maguire’s follow-up has myriad problems, from some lame jokes to the excruciatingly awkward slapstick, but the characterisation of the would-be (nay, positively wanna-be) dads is actually one of the film’s strengths. Firth and Dempsey produce such polar opposite yet equally appealing options that the script manages to toy with us until the very end, making the story unusually engrossing.

It helps a lot that as Firth climbs back on that straight-faced horse in his pin-striped suit, we are magicked back to those heady days when Bridget Jones counted calories and fumbled her lines and we loved her romantic ineptitude as it mirrored our own. Of course, we’ve moved on in the last 12 years and even Bridget has, sort-of, working as a TV news producer and maintaining her goal weight. (One imagines Renee Zellweger being express in her contract that she would not be puffing up again for this sequel.) And Zellweger’s still got it, too – that trill British accent, the pout, the hair which always looks like it has cake and children’s toys stuck in it, even when it hasn’t.

So if this was a bit of you back then, it’ll be a bit of you now. Predictably, the usual supporting suspects reappear (dotty mum, understanding dad, sweary friends) and there are the obligatory call-backs to the earlier flicks.

But the film doesn’t dwell too much on history. Bridget has a very present predicament, and with any luck she won’t have to sort it out all by herself.

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Kingsman: The Secret Service

Since the internet is hotting up about Kingsman and I never did put my view out there, it’s high time I cast my mind back several weeks to the evening I came out of the cinema feeling sullied and woefully disappointed.

It’s a great, if not novel, conceit. Eggsy is an unlikely lad (newishcomer Taron Egerton) who loses his dad in mysterious circumstances when he is small, and grows up on a London council estate with his long-suffering mum. Living in a bad scene (the mum takes on an abusive gangster boyfriend) but not hopeful about being able to change his lot, Eggsy’s evident streetsmarts and a longtime promise see him recruited to a shady, super-secret spy organisation by the impressive Harry Hart (Colin Firth, relishing the opportunity to play against type while retaining his cut-glass accent and sartorial prowess).

What follows is just as you’d hope and expect from the writer of Kick-Ass and the director of Layer Cake: an ordinary guy plays out our superhero fantasies as he avenges his father’s death and attempts to save the world from the despicable vagaries of an over-the-top Samuel L. Jackson. While Firth and his band of Arthurian goodies are Moore-era James Bond, the baddies are Tarantino circa Kill Bill in their flamboyance. It’s a perfectly enjoyable mash-up, with even Jackson bearable thanks mainly to an endearing speech impediment and a fantastic wardrobe of sneakers. Egerton acquits himself superbly against a cast that includes Michael Caine and Mark Strong, imbuing Eggsy with the right amount of cocky-geezer arrogance and something bordering on sympathy as he holds his own amongst a bunch of young toffs.

So far, so fun.

But just past the halfway mark, as I find myself contemplating a possible four stars and praise for screenwriter Goodman’s smart update on the well-trodden genre, Jackson’s evil machinations take over the plot and Vaughn’s movie loses it. A bloodbath in a church is foreshadowed uneasily as a grotesquerie of bigoted characters make us shift in our seats, but even the most objectionable factions of humanity don’t deserve the comeuppance that follows. There is something distinctly distasteful about watching Firth dispensing death in a scene which is over-shot, over-scored and over-hyped – intentionally hyperbolic perhaps, but such a misstep (the film plummeting to a conflicted two and a half stars) and so out of step with the film’s tone thus far, that it shifts the story into a whole other register.

From then on, Eggsy’s story is overpowered by super-villain nonsense of the Austin Powers kind, with an inevitably bombastic finale which will evoke either hysterical delight or grim-faced silence from viewers. And then – to top off the indignity – an appalling moment of misogyny which is no doubt designed to leave the principally young-male audience titillated and sated at the end of what is bound to have been a widely-considered “classic”.

So much potential. So much disappointment. So much box office.

Before I Go To Sleep

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 7th September 2014

The promise of a thriller starring Nicole Kidman and Colin Firth ought to be the greatest thing since Dead Calm and Love..? Actually, no, I can’t think of a Firth thriller but I’m sure he’d have been very good in one a decade ago before he became every middle-aged woman’s (and some men’s) fantasy Sexy-but-Sensible Guy.

What if every night your memory was wiped? And when you woke up, your husband had to explain to you (again. And again) who you were and who he was and what had happened? This is the basic but potentially interesting conceit of Before I go to Sleep, a claustrophobic and initially engrossing film shot in the drab greys of a British Anywhere.

It started, as so many movies do nowadays, as a bestselling book by a first-time writer, and goodness knows how faithful the film script is to the novel’s original dialogue, but as soon as we see Firth explaining to a perpetually startled Kidman what her predicament is, you just don’t buy it. Sure, he’s telling us, the audience, the story for the first time, but given the premise is that the “OK, so what happened was…” has been happening every morning for the last 14 years, Firth is remarkably calm and hasn’t yet begun cutting down the details of a well-trodden anecdote. How he gets ready for work in time each morning is beyond me.

As Christine Lucas, Oscar-winner Kidman is disappointingly one-note, all whispery voice and wide-eyed terror. (Gosh, her daily grind must be exhausting, hearing these revelations anew day after day. At least by the time you’ve gone through the wedding album and examined your middle-aged face in the mirror, it’s time for lunch.) Firth, however, hints at something going against type with his grimly-set jaw and psychotically patient demeanour. (Most couples lose patience on the second “I’ve already told you!..”) Add to this British every-villain Mark Strong as the well-meaning doctor who is helping Christine remember, and the film has all the elements of a much better movie than it turns out to be.

Adapted and directed by Rowan Joffe, who made the recent Brighton Rock which was a better movie from a better book, this film will inevitably evoke Memento for its amnesiac-mystery-solver parallels. Sadly the performances pale in comparison and the big reveal, when finally delivered, is an uncomfortable mix of nasty and yawn-inducing.

The Railway Man

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

England, 1980. Eric Lomax – “Not a trainspotter, a railway enthusiast!” – meets a woman on a trip across verdant countryside. These two strangers on a train enjoy a brief encounter as the slightly earnest, middle-aged Lomax (Colin Firth, less dapper than we’re used to but still with glimpses of his charismatic Single Man) is entranced by a comfortably forward Nicole Kidman.

The happy pairing that blossoms soon segues into a nightmare of post-traumatic stress as Lomax’s mind returns to Singapore where he was enslaved by the occupying Japanese in 1942. As his wife battles to understand and heal what happened to her husband, Lomax’s traumatic tale is dramatised on screen as our horrifying discoveries become hers.

Jeremy Irvine (War Horse) nails Firth’s speech and manner in his portrait of the younger Lomax, thrown into a grim Boy’s Own Adventure where the building of transistor radios from scrap brings flashes of joy that are swiftly crushed by Japanese brutality. There are harrowing moments of stress and exhaustion as the Brits are forced to build a railway up into Thailand, depicting a fascinating slice of history of how WWII was played out in South East Asia.

The true story of Lomax’s quest for vengeance (based on his book of the same name) is beautifully photographed, each scene peopled by wonderfully authentic character faces and painfully emaciated bodies.

But somehow, despite nuanced performances (including a notable turn from Hiroyuki Sanada from Sunshine), the pace feels a little plodding under the dedicated direction of relative novice Jonathan Teplitzky. Had this project appeared further down his career track, a little more panache may have propelled us to the end with greater commitment to Lomax’s cause. As it is, when the destination is finally reached, the ultimate revelations somewhat lose their punch.

GAMBIT

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 12 May 2013

Don’t be fooled. This art heist movie is neither Trance nor The Thomas Crown Affair, and just because it’s written by the Coen Brothers doesn’t mean a thing.

The premise isn’t even particularly Coenesque. Colin Firth and Tom Courtenay (enjoying a new lease on life following Quartet) concoct a plan to rob Firth’s diabolical boss (Alan Rickman) of millions of pounds by selling him a fake Monet. Courtenay’s avuncular voiceover calls it “a bit of a thieving”, which is quite charming and for a moment you think this crime caper might be fun. Until Cameron Diaz opens up a Texan accent and Firth’s drippy art historian gets punched in the nose. For the third time.

Reminiscent instead of the Pink Panther movies but without that charm or any pretence of originality – from the animated opening titles to the farce within, the film buckles under the weight of phoned-in performances and unfunny gags – it feels like something from a bygone era, except those bygones knew how to make a decent movie.

If I’m being harsh, it’s because of the crushing disappointment that the combination of Firth (channelling his Single Man without the sangfroid), Rickman and the Coens’ usually witty scripting doesn’t work at all. Even Diaz (whom I love) is awful, not just in southern accent but delivery of lines. Plus, something has gone very wrong with her face. Perhaps the two problems are related.

The script relies on double-entendres and people losing their trousers in hotel hallways to deliver a softcore version of Hangover-type idiocy (there are even monkeys riding dogs). It’s a limp, unfunny mess.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star Times, 15th January 2012

A long time ago, in a country on the other side of the world, Alec Guinness appeared in his seminal television performance as George Smiley, a taciturn, inscrutable secret agent on a mission to dig out a Soviet mole. The BBC series screened over seven weeks in 1979, one of the first instances of “appointment viewing” for a British public that was enthralled by the hunt: which of the four suspected MI6 spies was the traitor?

It has taken three decades for John le Carre’s source novel to earn a big-screen adaptation, but it comes with a high-calibre cast under the steady hand of Swedish director Tomas Alfredson (well- regarded for his arthouse vampire flick Let the Right One In, and here bringing to bear all of his expertise in creating dark action in the thick of a tense, brooding atmosphere).

Gary Oldman takes on Guinness’s legendary role, eschewing the wild-eyed craziness of much of his career and here capturing Smiley’s quiet man perfectly. By saying less and seeing more, Smiley is the perfect spy sent to catch a spy. Oldman sports his trademark 70s spectacles and tan overcoat, shrugging off aspersions cast about his good name, while rising above the rumours of his wife’s infidelities. As the characters pace about the brown and orange set design of the era, the British secret service has none of the sheen of contemporary shows such as Spooks. With no cellphones to trace or DNA samples to test, old-fashioned spy-work is all about using the little grey cells and hard-won intelligence.

And a modern audience, particularly one which doesn’t recall the TV series, will need every little grey cell in order to keep up with this story. Condensed appropriately and successfully into a little over two hours, one must listen carefully to everything said by Tom Hardy, Colin Firth, Toby Jones, Kathy Burke and the many other excellent actors who work with and against Smiley in his pursuit of the mole. It’s refreshing to be back in a Cold War, pre-Islamic terrorist world, though this change in mindset may prove challenging for some viewers. Often told in flashback, many of the set pieces are gripping, accompanied by an edgy, agitated soundtrack. It is almost a relief when we see the spooks at play during their work Christmas party, proving they are as real and fallible as us civilians.

Tinker Tailor is a smart film about spies and spying that is spellbinding and rewarding.

The King’s Speech

A fine one to talk

Apparently public speaking is the number one fear in the world, ahead of such minnows as heights, flying and even death.  Which puts even more firmly into perspective the absolute terror felt by the stammering Prince Albert (known as “Bertie” to his family, and latterly King George VI to the rest of us).  With a speech impediment that appeared in his early years, probably as a result of bullying and an overbearing and strict upbringing, the second in line to the throne never expected to have to perform publicly.  When his brother’s scandalous abdication placed him upon the throne, Bertie had no choice but to adapt.

There has been huge hype about this latest British royalty-flick, and everything you have heard is true.  Top of the list, and surely with an Oscar on the horizon this time, Colin Firth delivers a bravura performance that takes you deep into the fortressed psyche of a reluctant Royal, stuttering his way (naturalistically and sympathetically) through two hours of tight-jawed anxiety.  Helena Bonham-Carter plays the Queen Mother, loving and supportive in a way that doesn’t quite tally with the tabloid gossip about her following her death, but certainly makes for wonderful characterisation and an enjoyable watch.  Guy Pearce, perhaps an odd casting choice for King Edward VII (who marries the American divorcee Wallace Simpson) does a superb plum-in-mouth, and there are delightful cameos from Brideshead Revisited stalwarts Anthony Andrews and Claire Bloom.   Michael Gambon and Derek Jacobi play “baddies” (in the form of King George V and the Archbishop of Canterbury, respectively) and even Timothy Spall pops up in a caricature of Winston Churchill.

But it is the brilliant Australian actor Geoffrey Rush, playing Australian speech therapist Lionel Logue, whose scenes with Firth make the most moving and intense moments of the film.  His ability to break down the austere barriers created by class and colonial disdain, and his down-to-earth Aussie attitude (insisting on calling the Prince “Bertie” in an effort to make them equals in the treatment room) mean that Logue provides not just the laugh-out-loud moments, but the depth required for us to care about an over-privileged person who suffers a great disadvantage.

The film doesn’t exploit the historical potential for lavish production design, fancy costumes and grand spectacle, instead focusing on engrossing performances from the whole cast.  The script zings along at quite a pace (interestingly not written by Simon Beaufoy, Peter Morgan or Julian Fellowes, but by TV/animated movie writer David Seidler) and there are blasts of perfect popular classics by Mozart and Beethoven.  The King’s Speech deserves its accolades, and its cast deserve the acting awards that will surely shower upon them in the forthcoming BAFTAs and Academy Awards.  I hope Firth has prepared his acceptance speech.

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