Lina Lamont

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

Archive for the tag “Idris Elba”

Finding Dory

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

4 stars

Set narratively one year after Nemo got lost and then found, his surrogate sister/mother Dory suffers a similar plot trajectory in this delightful, family-friendly, follow-up.

For those who don’t remember much of 2003, Dory is the cute blue fish with Ellen DeGeneres’ voice, who “suffers from short-term memory loss”, as her patiently caring parents have taught her to explain to each stranger she meets. Which, given she can’t retain a thought for more than six seconds, means she says it a lot.

The ridiculously simple premise is just as beguiling as its predecessor, whereby Dory (superbly embodied by DeGeneres such that the fish’s facial expressions perfectly reflect the adorable lilt of her pathologically apologetic dialogue) goes on a quest to find her own family, and meets a plethora of well-rendered, aquatic characters on the way. What’s not to love about Hank, the cynical old septopus (Ed O’Neill) and a dopey beluga whale named Bailey, voiced by Modern Family’s Ty Burrell? I’m not even tired of hearing Idris Elba’s wry English tones in yet another children’s movie (after Zootopia and The Jungle Book).

Finding Dory doesn’t deliver the hearty laughs as much as Zootopia did, and it mostly eschews the now-customary adult level of meaning written into children’s movies, in order to concentrate on wowing us with some beautifully cinematic photography and neatly clever flashbacks.

But it’s nonetheless an entertaining, often moving, story with a moral. Employing junior assistants for this particular reviewing mission, I’m grateful for the critical considerations of Miss Eight, who explained that the film’s message is “To just keep going, no matter what”, and Miss Five-and-a-quarter whose reply to “What do you think the film wanted us to know?” was the commercially astute: “It wants you to watch it heaps of times”.

Bastille Day

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

What do you get when you cast an Englishman, a Scotsman and a Frenchwoman in a terrorist action-thriller set in Paris? Well, when you add a predominantly European cast, scenes heavily reliant on subtitles and an underlying whip-smart script, it’s a veritable calling card from a hitherto small-scale director who is probably on the phone to Hollywood as we speak.

Bastille Day kicks off at pace with an absorbing action sequence which leads to a fatal bombing in central Paris. (Initially you wonder if this premise is “too soon”, but the film was shot in 2014 so it is merely uncomfortably prescient.) Contemporary cinema’s omnipresent Idris Elba plays a renegade CIA agent who takes it upon himself to catch the culprit, throwing him nicely into an odd-couple relationship with a pickpocket who is running from his past (Richard Madden, thankfully playing it more Game of Thrones than Cinderella). These two British actors don passable American accents and leather jackets as they fight to prove Madden’s innocence while tracking the real baddies.

The pseudo-European sensibility of the film is proved not just by the Franglais and charming street settings, but the refreshingly realistic rooftop chase scene which sees its performers flounder without the skills of parkouristes like Jason Bourne. Elba and Madden shoot criticisms and witticisms at each other in an endearing rather than annoying way, and while this is certainly not Charlotte Le Bon’s movie, the girl from The Hundred-Foot Journey should consider it her springboard into mainstream American fare.

Smartly written, multi-cultural and thematically relevant, Bastille Day is a more intelligent and satisfying action thriller than we’re used to, with any narrative curiosities able to be written off as “so French” rather than jarringly wrong. Capped off with the best fight scene ever choreographed in a small space, Bastille Day is a blast.

NOTE: This film was released in France on 13th July 2016, to coincide with the timeline of the story. However, due to the terrorist attack that devastated Nice on Bastille Day, the film was understandably pulled from distribution on the 17th, out of respect for the victims and families.

Zootopia

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 3rd April 2016

For many years now, children’s movies have been expert in the field of “double address” – the ability to connect with the young audience on a literal level as well as the accompanying adults in the more sophisticated realm of inference and meta-commentary.

Much of Zootopia’s charm results from its wonderful animation and captivating energy, but at heart it’s the witty, insightful script around deeper socio-political issues (and the in-jokes about real life) which makes it truly satisfying for any grown-up who goes to see it.

Judy Hopps has grown up with a dream of being Zootopia’s first leporine police officer – and the city’s first female bunny cop, at that – and so, as she begins her career in the big smoke (living in a dowdy tenement block with paper-thin walls and a springy bed), the film’s key message that “Anyone can be anything” starts to take seed. And for a target audience of youngsters , that’s a worthy lesson.

OK, so far, not-very-meta – but when we see Judy battling institutional prejudice (against bunnies, against girls, against little creatures) and displaying her own intolerance of foxes, stemming from experience and family conditioning, Zootopia’s raison d’être becomes very clear and ultimately very apt. Devoted to fighting the city’s crime, Hopps meets a tricky character who winds up being the very person to teach her, and our young viewers, a valuable lesson about stereotyping, assumptions and bigotry.

Despite his huge coven of writers (which can often signal a mess of a screenplay), director Byron Howard brings his experience heading Tangled and Bolt to terrific effect on this very apposite social commentary. The lively vocal cast, which includes Jason Bateman and Idris Elba, delivers a wonderfully clever script which mixes a Godfather pastiche with a fantastically timed gag about slow-moving employees in government departments. Preaching the utopia of “predator and prey living in harmony”, Howard’s team attends to issues of mistrust and forgiveness in a story which would do well to be absorbed by tomorrow’s adult population.

Pacific Rim

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 14th July 2013

Having plundered choice elements of Alien, Blade Runner and Transformers, and designed to look slightly smarter than your average biff-baff blockbuster, Pacific Rim proves a beast almost as surprising as the Godzilla-like baddies our heroes are up against.

It’s the year 2020, a future where Earth’s technology has moved on impressively although hipster audiences will be relieved to know their look is still “in”. (Characters also still use the terms “A-SAP” and “dude”, which is comforting.) As told in a fast-moving prologue, our planet has been besieged by alien life-forms known as Kaiju which have destroyed whole cities, and thus humankind has created massive warrior robots (Jaegers) that go into battle whenever a Kaiju rears its head.

It takes two soldiers plugged into one another’s consciousness – sorry, I mean “locked in a neural bridge” – to drive a robot, but when Becket (Charlie Hunnam from TV’s Sons of Anarchy) loses his co-pilot, it’s going to take a lot to get him back behind the wheel and prepared to “drift” into someone’s brain again. Actually, not that much – a desperate military boss and a beguiling Asian beauty prove convincing enough.

Thanks to an international cast, Brits, Japanese and Americans try out each other’s accents (though some of the “Australian” drifts more than the soldiers’ minds). Top of the military pecking order is The Wire’s Stringer Bell, actor Idris Elba here keeping his natural British accent, quite thrilling as he utters the line “We don’t need ‘em” like he’s channelling Ray Winstone. However, sadly Hunnam is no Chris Hemsworth in the hero stakes, and apart from Rinko Kikuchi as a martial artist with a (genuinely moving) past, the other fighters are like videogame characters with clichéd personalities and disposable life-spans.

But thanks to the visual panache inherent in his earlier films Pan’s Labyrinth and Hellboy, director Guillermo del Toro makes it look amazing, with a Blade Runner-inspired take on Hong Kong and alien creatures to rival the 1979 prototype. Despite the by-numbers plot and the litany of stereotypes (macho BS stands in for dramatic arc), the “science” behind the mind-melding and robot-driving is exciting, and vibrant performances from familiar faces allow you to enter into the spirit of the whole thing.

It’s so much more than robots fighting aliens – well, not that much more, but enough to keep it jolly entertaining, even during the Big Fight Scenes – that Pacific Rim deserves a hearty recommendation. And a better title.

Thor

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star Times, 1 May 2011

There are only two things you need to know about Thor.  First, be warned that the film starts off a bit weak: there are shades of Star Wars meets LOTR meets Twister, and the palpable CGI robs the opening battles of any real emotional punch.  But second, as soon as Norse god Thor Odinson is banished from his father’s kingdom and dumped unceremoniously on earth to be scooped up by Natalie Portman’s weak-kneed scientist, Thor rapidly ascends to become of the superior super-hero movies of recent years.

Shakespearean demigod Kenneth Branagh is back, here directing a multinational cast whose round vowels and strong enunciation lend genuine gravitas to an otherwise pretty traditional quest story.  Thor (Australian Chris Hemsworth) sports a physique that rivals Schwarzenegger, and his charm and wit provide the biggest laughs – with touches of Crocodile Dundee as he brings his archaic behaviour to a diner in the desert of New Mexico.

Film geeks will be thrilled by (too brief) cameos from hardman Jeremy Renner, and the even harder Idris Elba (Stringer Bell from TV’s The Wire).  Miraculously, the intermingling of Nordic sci-fi with human sci-reality works well, thanks to Portman and Hemsworth’s chemistry, and while a Thor 2 may be a bridge too far, this prototype is an enjoyable ride.

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