Lina Lamont

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

Archive for the tag “Emily Blunt”

Sicario

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 20th September 2015

The eye-popping opening scene of this gritty glimpse into the perilous world of Mexican drug cartels (best unspoilered) sets Sicario up to be one of the best thrillers of the year.

FBI SWAT team leader Kate Macer (a terrific Emily Blunt, flexing the muscle she so beautifully honed in Edge of Tomorrow), is enticed into some sort of a worthy mission, but then kept in the dark by the shady agents who conscript her. Adept at “kicking down doors” on the Arizona side of the drug-dealing tracks, she finds herself thrown over the border into Mexican towns which are simultaneously run and ruined by dark forces.

Director Denis Villeneuve followed up his brilliant, critically acclaimed Incendies with 2013’s less impressive Prisoners (in which a gaunt Jake Gyllenhaal stole the show as a tenacious cop on the trail of a child-kidnapper). Here, Villeneuve is back on top form, applying his admirable commitment to authenticity to the ins and outs of cross-border policing and the grim realities of cartel-ruled life.

The film boasts plenty of Villeneuvean aesthetics, with shots framed by doorways and windows and exquisite skies (thanks in no small part to legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins).

From an exhilarating border crossing by a police convoy, to a gripping siege shot from multiple points of view, Villeneuve keeps the tension and pace high.

Blunt makes for a typically strong female protagonist, less patronised than her forebear Clarice Starling, and the supporting cast (including a twinkly-eyed Josh Brolin and the welcome return of Benicio Del Toro, evoking his role in 2000’s Traffic) are perfectly-pitched.

Sicario is the stuff cinematic crime thrillers are made of.

Edge of Tomorrow

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 8th June 2014

Tom Cruise dies. Tom Cruise dies over and over again. Tom Cruise dies over and over again while taking each new opportunity at life to fight an alien invasion. Tom Cruise dies over and over again while fighting an alien invasion so that Earth will survive.

Not quite Groundhog Day but bearing a strong resemblance to the excellent Source Code, this is one action blockbuster starring the much-maligned superstar which deserves its hype, its pre-praise, and possibly even more than one viewing. Directed by the original Bourne-maker, Doug Liman, the film has the self-assurance of its lineage – a beautifully photographed London, spectacular beach battle scenes and the focus squarely on the human peril with little regard for the monsters which are causing all the trouble.

The acting’s good too. Cruise is a delight to watch from the very opening scenes in which he, a Captain in the US Army but very much an officer not a soldier, thinks he can smarm his way out of a General’s order. No amount of PR training will help him, and minutes later we see “Private” Cage awaken in handcuffs to protest his identity and be sent, like a lamb to the slaughter, off to fight. For the first of many, many, many times. What makes it enjoyable is that Cage initially struggles with his body armour, makes constant mistakes and is terrified for his life. It’s a welcome change from Cruise’s usual leading man roles, and just one of many aspects of the film that enthrals us from the start.

Extra points for quality acting go to Brit Emily Blunt, who only ten years ago broke out in a little indie movie about a lesbian love affair and has since ascended swiftly to Hollywood royalty with films as diverse as The Young Victoria and The Adjustment Bureau (another tricky time-travelling tale, pairing her up with Liman’s original Bourne, Matt Damon). Blunt can never have imagined that a decade later she’d be the literal poster girl for a kick-ass, female, fighting machine.

And even the supporting players are good, pleasingly picked from Australia, Britain and America and showcasing the best example you’ll ever see of Bill Paxton actually having fun with a role, plus a welcome return from Aussie Noah Taylor.

It’s easy to attribute the clever story to the wily mind of screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie (who knows a thing or two about messing with time narratives following The Usual Suspects) but in fact McQuarrie co-adapted a Japanese novel “All You Need is Kill”. In any event, we can thank him for the tight plotting and clarity of message, as well as the genuinely funny jokes one can make when one already knows what a fellow combatant is going to say. As proven by Groundhog Day, there is endless comic potential in such gags, and McQuarrie’s script ensures there is levity amidst the gravity.

If Edge of Tomorrow heralds the way of action movies in the future, surely Cruise deserves to be cut some slack. And somebody better give Liman the next Bourne film.

Your Sister’s Sister

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star Times, 16th September 2012

Gaining a welcome general release after its New Zealand film festival debut, this delightful three-hander proves yet again that solid scripting, terrific characterisation and a modicum of a moral dilemma is all that is needed to deliver an audience-pleasing cinematic escape.

Emily Blunt (yes, previously accused of ubiquity in this column, but instantly forgiven because of her consistently lovable performances) plays Iris, one leg of a wobbly interfamilial love triangle. Her best friend Jack (Mark Duplass) is the terminally wry, no-hoper brother of her deceased ex-boyfriend. Following his attempted hijacking of the memorial gathering, Iris stages an “intervention”, sending him to her father’s cabin in the woods for some alone-time, where he interrupts the private respite of Iris’s sister, Hannah.

The instant chemistry between Rosemarie DeWitt, Blunt and Duplass is beautifully played out in every variation of relationship: friends, siblings, lovers. In particular, the two sisters’ mutual devotion and admiration is touching and believable, such that the eventual emotional blow presents a genuine conflict for all involved. At the same time, the story’s plausibility is key to the audience’s engagement – so if some of the plotting seems a bit convenient (in terms of pacing and advancement), at least it’s still well within the realms of the undesirably possible.

Duplass, writer and director of indie charmers Cyrus and Jeff Who Lives at Home, proves just as adept in front of the camera spouting someone else’s lines. His hang-dog face might become wearing if you’re not falling for him, but his rendition of a bloke with half a clue rings too true. The three turn a weekend by the lake into a family melodrama and an enjoyable peek into the lives of others.

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star Times, 13th May 2012

The ubiquitous Emily Blunt, fresh from The Five Year Engagement, is this time paired with Ewan McGregor in Lasse Hallstrom’s (The Cider House Rules) adaptation of a popular novel that probably seemed like a safe cinematic bet.

McGregor is clearly having fun, playing a buttoned-up scientist whose very forthright Scottish impatience is gently worn down by Blunt’s lovely consultant, pushing her own agenda to introduce salmon fishing to the desert country of the Yemen on behalf of a wealthy sheikh. As thinly drawn as their characters are, when Emily and Ewan first appear together their scenes have a real spark and their budding connection is touching. Doubtless, it’ll be Kristin Scott Thomas who lingers longer in the memory. As the caustic press secretary to the prime minister, she sashays around government offices and Scottish castles, at one stage bellowing at her disobedient children “I’m not one of yo’ bitches from the Baltimore low rises, you feel me?”, blowing cigarette smoke through all her best lines.

Neither the fault of Hallstrom nor talented screenwriter Simon Beaufoy, the subplot veers from convenient to ludicrous, and the whole film has a distinct whiff of the work of Love, Actually director Richard Curtis (not in a good way). It starts with promise, charts the usual odd-couple territory, gets philosophical-lite (with trite musings on “faith” between the atheist scientist and devout sheikh), then winds up getting really rather silly. Audiences will enjoy the bits that work, but it’s a shame the film is not the sum of its parts.

The Five Year Engagement

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star Times, 6th May 2012

British every(where) woman Emily Blunt and Team Apatow regular Jason Segel are Tom and Violet – a couple who fall quickly in love and then, as the title suggests, spend the next five years of their relationship travelling the ups and downs of the road to marriage.

Director Nicholas Stoller played slightly dirtier in Get Him To The Greek and Forgetting Sarah Marshall, but even without Russell Brand’s antics he manages to concoct a sweet lovers’ tryst out of Segel’s goofy chef and Blunt’s thoughtful psychologist. The script is a mixed bag – sometimes conveniently dull, unrealistic and even a bit lame, then suddenly spouting something clever, a new angle on relationship woes, and providing humour in its truisms.

Almost inevitably nowadays, there is a “funny bridesmaid” in the form of Violet’s emotional sister, Suzie, and adulterous intrigue provided by Welshman Rhys Ifans, who mostly veers away from professorial caricature but certainly cuts it close.

There’s never really any doubt that Tom and Violet, who are far nicer to one another than any long-time couple you’re likely to know in real life, will make it through – but their journey is nonetheless amusing, peppered with laugh-out-loud moments and some surprising cameos.

Gulliver’s Travels

Big fun in Lilliput

Another Jack Black vehicle, but one he drives so well – the contemporary adaptation of Jonathan Swift’s classic novel about the chap who gets washed up on the land of the tiny people.  In the movie, Gulliver is the guy from the mailroom who never expects to ascend to higher office, and is paralysed in his (in)ability to ask out Darcy, the travel editor (Amanda Peet).  Fibbing his way to an assignment that sees him shipped off for 3 weeks into the Bermuda Triangle, Gulliver is washed ashore in Lilliput where the natives are quaintly dressed in old-fashioned garb and speak in proper English accents.

Black’s performance is nothing new or special, but his general likeability as something of an everyman, and his passion for all things musical, make him especially watchable as he tricks the Lilliputians into believing he is the President of the Island of Manhattan, betrothed to the beautiful Darcy Silverman.  He performs various heroic feats (by means only of his size and girth) and befriends the cast of mainly British actors/comedians – Chris O’Dowd (having graduated from TV’s “The IT Crowd” with distinction) a standout.

Bottom line is, this film isn’t about the complicated story, or the witty script, or the method acting – but somehow it’s a really enjoyable, all-ages, family-friendly gig.  From Gulliver’s live-action computer game of the band Kiss, to his coaching Jason Segel’s peasant in the art of wooing Emily Blunt’s princess, amusement abounds, and as the waters carry Gulliver back to his real world, we almost want to be left behind.

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