Lina Lamont

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

Archive for the tag “Helen Mirren”

Eye in the Sky

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 10th April 2016

The moral dilemma at the core of Eye in the Sky makes this one of the most exciting and thought-provoking films you’ll see all year. Far from letting us sit back in our seats to passively observe the mind-numbing spectacle of super-heroes fighting each other, it forces us to follow the twists and turns in a plot which moves swiftly and urgently towards the catastrophic bombing of a civilian village.

The eclectic international casting has Colonel Powell (Helen Mirren) running a British-American operation alongside Alan Rickman (in his final on-screen role) to assess the imminent threat of a terrorist group in Nairobi, Kenya. Excitingly, and in keeping with military practice nowadays, it’s mostly handled remotely: while the titular eye includes surveillance driven by an American soldier in Nevada (Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul), decisions are made in a Sussex outpost, then checked, as the circumstances change, by the Powers That Be in the US and London.

This is what makes the story so fascinating, thanks to writer Guy Hibbert whose CV demonstrates an acuity with crime dramas and bigger political issues: the initially straightforward decision is suddenly derailed when an innocent child enters the frame, prompting back-and-forth deliberations about collateral damage and the legal restrictions on military engagement.

Eye in the Sky certainly can’t be accused, as most US military movies can, of not giving a human face to “the other side”. Made by the director of South Africa’s Tsotsi, this film spends as much time on the ground as in the sky. As a result, it is undeniably gripping as those in power oscillate between what we might consider right and wrong, and will leave you with plenty to argue afterwards.

Woman in Gold

Woman in Gold delves into one of the lesser-known but fascinating subplots of Holocaust history – the pillaging of major artworks by the Nazis during WWII.

Dame Helen Mirren misses few beats sporting dark contact lenses and an Austrian accent as the dignified survivor who fled to Los Angeles just as war broke out in Europe. Decades later, Maria Altmann approaches an inexperienced young lawyer to help her reacquire a Klimt masterpiece which she says rightfully belongs to her family. The pair take on the Austrian government in an effort to right old wrongs.

The other half in this odd couple is Ryan Reynolds’ Randy Schoenberg, utterly benign against Mirren’s feisty pensioner who is less than keen to revisit the country she considers killed her family and friends. Based on truth, Maria’s contemporary story is not as interesting as the beautifully styled flashbacks which return us to an era reminiscent of The Sound of Music when Austria did not yet realise the peril ahead for its non-Aryan citizens.

Director Simon Curtis (My Week with Marilyn) cuts together an enjoyable enough story, casting famous faces in support and keeping the pace up. While the film lacks the power of superior courtroom dramas or war stories, Woman in Gold will still entertain its no doubt eager audience.

The Hundred Foot Journey

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 3rd August 2014

There’s no need to fight it. After all, you can’t set a film in India without saturating the screen in the obligatory bright colours and vibrant sounds of that exotic continent, and curiously The Hundred-Foot Journey is made all the better by its adherence to cliché.

The bestselling novel has been brought to cinematic life by that paragon of celluloid adaptations, Lasse Hallstrom, whose latest tale bears more of a narrative resemblance to Chocolat than his Oscar-winning The Cider House Rules. The man clearly knows how to deliver a pop hit from a pop book: first casts a movie legend (where here we have Dame Helen Mirren and Indian legend Om Puri, back then it was Judi Dench, Juliette Binoche and Michael Caine, respectively). Then he enlists someone to write a lively script, before lavishing the story in lush production design and an enchanting soundtrack. It’s not subtle, but despite the formula in this case it’s nonetheless intoxicating.

The Hundred-Foot Journey’s rather charming tale transports a grieving family from Mumbai to Europe to start their new life, where the proud father is stubbornly determined to open an Indian restaurant – in rural France, directly opposite the local Michelin-starred eatery which is run by a haughty grande dame. The inevitable slapstick of unfriendly rivalry that arises between the racist French restaurant and the naïve newcomers is tempered by some lovely performances from the more earnest younger cast, notably the dashing Manish Dayal and the beguiling Charlotte Le Bon (who’s so French you think she must be putting it on – but she’s not).

Aided by energetic photography which includes a nicely choreographed tracking shot and plenty of market porn of French produce, Hallstrom rather overdoes the sunsets and lens flares but remarkably manages to deliver a surprisingly touching story through it all.

It may feel as though the story moves a little too fast at times, the travails of many a book adaptation which seeks to be faithful to its source material. But it’s impossible not to fall in love with the French village, the charismatic Indian son who is given a life-changing opportunity, and even Mirren’s initially mannered acting. The audience I was with laughed uproariously throughout, as this cross-cultural tale won their hearts and stomachs.

The Debt

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star Times, 30th October 2011

The writers of Kick Ass have created an altogether more mature offering in the form of this historical spy thriller, no doubt influenced by their director, John Madden (best known for Shakespeare in Love and Mrs Brown).

Israel, 1966: three young Mossad agents return from a mission to capture and bring to justice a Nazi war criminal. Heralded as heroes for the next three decades, the truth about their time in Berlin comes back to haunt them in later life, causing upset and a requirement for loose ends to be tied up.

Flitting back and forth between past and present, the strong cast includes Helen Mirren and the ubiquitous Tom Wilkinson, with shining starlet Jessica Chastain (Tree of Life and The Help) and New Zealand’s Marton Csokas as their younger selves. Only occasionally do the Israeli accents belie the Antipodean within (Avatar‘s Sam Worthington has a pivotal role, though it’s weakly played) but it’s not hard to suspend your disbelief, and many of the set pieces manage to evoke (admittedly superior) counterparts like Munich. Chastain is particularly good, the scenes in which she inveigles her way into the medical practice of the Nazi-turned-gynaecologist serving to create incredible tension, and revulsion at what she must go through in the interests of duty. As the hunted doctor, Jesper Christensen (the shadowy Mr White in the recent James Bond movies) is manipulatively excellent.

Harking back to the days of old-fashioned spy thrillers, the plot is gripping and revelations unexpected. The aforementioned loose ends may be conveniently tied by the end, but the exercise itself shows passion and commitment to the cause.

Brighton Rock

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star Times, 15 May 2011

This latest rendition of the 1939 novel by Graeme Greene is both a stunning film and a nasty piece of work.  Pinkie Brown and his fellow thugs were originally brought to life in the Richard Attenborough-starring film of 1947.  Now director Rowan Joffe kicks off his feature film career by relocating the classic story to 1964, when Mods and Rockers rode around on scooters, and gangsters carried combs in their breast pockets and switchblades up their sleeves.

Pinkie (a brooding Sam Riley, as compelling here as in his first main role playing the doomed Ian Curtis in Control) is the runner in a criminal gang, who hoists himself swiftly to the top after his boss is murdered.  In such an environment, revenge is a given, but the presence of a witness is not, so Pinkie ingratiates himself upon the innocent Rose (Made in Dagenham’s Andrea Riseborough) to ensure she doesn’t incriminate him in a brutal crime.  Rose quickly falls for him, despite Pinkie’s evident lack of warmth or charm, once he tells her “You’re good. I’m bad. We’re made for each other”.

Thanks to painstakingly authentic production design, the stand-in for Brighton Pier retrieves the gaudiness of its heyday, and the characters’ costumes and hairstyles fit right in.  Even their dialogue, slightly stilted in that mannered, old-fashioned way, perfectly evokes the era.  Photographed by the cinematographer for Gladiator, and directed by the man who wrote other slow-burning thrillers such as The American, this is a class act, with support including Helen Mirren (channelling DI Jane Tennison rather than Her Majesty), familiar face Phil Davis and a crusty John Hurt. 

But, at heart, this is Pinkie and Rose’s story, and once they seal their doomed romance with a kiss on the edge of a steep cliff, we the audience are never allowed to step back from the precipice.  Brighton Rock is at times a hard watch, our sympathy lying with the gullible Rose rather than the sociopathic Pinkie, who idly plucks the legs from a spider while intoning “she loves me, she loves me not…”.  In his rendition of Pinkie, Riley walks the fine line between sinister and tantalising, and while no self-respecting woman would fall for him nowadays, we can just about believe why Rose might.

The film is one long, measured exercise in dread and tension.  Its fight scenes are violent yet artistic (an early one sees the juxtaposition of happy holidaying faces with a frantic struggle and the flash of knife blades).  Ironically, it is perhaps the straightforward narrative of Greene’s source story that causes the film to sometimes feel a little shallow, preventing it from turning into the more modern, fast-paced and complex thriller that today’s audiences are used to.  At the same time, this restraint reinforces the authenticity and quality of its ’60s atmosphere.

Arthur

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star Times, 24 April 2011

And so, from an unimaginative sequel [Scream 4] to a rather pointless remake.

As Russell Brand’s 30-something billionaire playboy zooms around New York city in a custom-made Batmobile, one can’t help but wonder what possessed movie execs to greenlight a version of the 1981 Dudley Moore vehicle of the same name, when 20 years on the story has so little to recommend it.

Arthur is a generous, faux naïve, perpetually drunk man-child, whose overbearing mother forces him to marry a domineering career woman (an unforgiving role for Jennifer Garner) if he wants to keep his fortune.  Since we need a dramatic arc, Arthur instead falls for an equally childish young woman who shares his love of the juvenile.

Doubtless Moore was considered the drawcard in the original, and in keeping with this, the eternally charismatic Brand dons the signature top hat as if born to the role – his accent, hair and wild gait inevitably conjuring up sniffs of Johnny Depp’s Mad Hatter/Willy Wonka.  As his long-suffering nanny, Helen Mirren injects a bit of class and good humour into the otherwise shallow proceedings, but the film ignores the blatant truth that Arthur is on the one hand being infantilised and enabled, while at the same time belittled and bullied.

It’s mildly enjoyable, insipidly silly nonsense as one of Mirren’s choicest lines becomes the audience’s silent wish: “Your safari into the pointless ends now”.

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