Lina Lamont

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

Archive for the tag “Jesse Eisenberg”

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Dawn of Justice is the much-anticipated battle between two super-heroes that I previously thought were both on our side, but in any event, frankly it’s less interesting watching them tussle than you’d think.

One is a demi-god with exceptionally good intentions whose inner conflict involves a utilitarian fight between saving the love of his life versus the rest of humankind; the other is a jaded, middle-aged billionaire whose chance of emotional happiness was destroyed the moment his parents were murdered. Whether congenital or constructed, each has the super-human capacity to wreak havoc and save lives. But somehow they wind up having to fight each other. And it takes a very noisy, overlong two and a half hours for one of them to win.

Director Zack Snyder picks up where his Man of Steel set down: Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) is now living happily with Lois Lane but is still unrecognisable to his colleagues at the Daily Planet newspaper; Bruce Wayne (now played by Ben Affleck) continues to sleep around and attend lacklustre cocktail parties while his butler Alfred (a refreshing update on the role by Jeremy Irons) delivers a cynical commentary.

Initially, the cinematography (particularly stunning in Imax), Snyder’s typically grim production design and Hans Zimmer’s extraordinary soundtrack (it’s just as well I like my music sledgehammer subtle…) deliver plenty of thrills, and with the introduction of a hyperactive Jesse Eisenberg as Wayne’s new nemesis, things bode well. Batman, in particular, feels credible in his fatigue and pessimistic outlook, while Kent and Lane’s burgeoning relationship carries a comforting domestic tone.

But once the battle begins, it’s simply too loud and too long. If one were inclined towards subtext, the continual theistic allusions might be compelling: Luther despairs/delights in the battle he is orchestrating being between gods and devils, and certainly Superman is played like a Jesus figure once lauded then pilloried by the very populace he once swore to serve. An apposite Easter movie, perhaps, but in every other way Snyder’s attempt to deliver meaning is scuppered by his idolatry of empty bombast. The real injustice here is for the fans.

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Night Moves

A trio of environmental activists go the extra protesting mile by planning to blow up a hydroelectric dam. It’s all for a good cause, right? But tragedy can strike even the well-intentioned.

This seemingly straightforward plot (in both senses of the word) is expertly executed and rendered entirely gripping, thanks to intense performances and the director’s trademark languid style. Starring Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network), the eternally unnerving Peter Sarsgaard and former child star Dakota Fanning (impressively grown-up since War of the Worlds), the story focuses on their sullen interactions, with all the unspoken tension and paranoid glances such a scenario presents.

The pacing is notable, as in all Kelly Reichardt’s films, for taking its damned time. The director is unrepentantly interested in the “small moments”, and while the planning for the bomb is intricately detailed and necessarily builds suspense, the potential for interpersonal conflict smolders quietly. With the contribution of a terrific soundtrack and subtle camerawork, the result is nothing short of enthralling.

Now You See Me

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 4th August 2013

A terrific cast of magicians, each with his or her own forte, a zingy script and a story that moves at the speed of light – like a magic trick itself, Now You See Me promises much in the build-up, boasting all the elements of a rollicking good film.

Look behind the smoke and mirrors and you may realise there is absolutely no character development and the plot possibly has a few holes… But you don’t want to look too hard, because this film is entertainment with a capital M.

Four illusionists (perhaps a more accurate term) are enticed into a game of They Don’t Know What by They Don’t Know Who. But being adventurous egotists at the top of their respective games, Woody Harrelson and Jesse Eisenberg (reunited from Zombieland), Isla Fisher (The Great Gatsby) and Dave Franco (forging his own path out of the shadow of brother James) embrace the opportunity to fool the world. Putting on hi-fi magic shows in Vegas, they are ostensibly under the patronage of Michael Caine’s millionaire, Arthur Tressler. But who’s really behind all this larking about?

The rendering of the magic acts is sensational, all spinning camerawork and souring music – overblown but undeniably fun and exciting. If anything, the starry cast is there to dazzle us into not noticing the feeble plot. An exotic Melanie Laurent joins the typically shambolic Mark Ruffalo, while Morgan Freeman just looks to be having as much fun as the name Thaddeus Bradley suggests.

Directed by the bloke who brought you The Incredible Hulk and Clash of the Titans, the film is a bit of a cheap trick but it’s refreshingly gangster-free and at least there’s only one car chase.

To Rome With Love

Woody is back! Again! Though when this was exclaimed in delight a year ago, it heralded a return to what was widely considered his best form, with the Oscar-winning charmer Midnight in Paris.  

To Rome with Love demonstrates a reversion to pre-Midnight days for the 77-year old director, though this isn’t entirely a bad thing. As in Matchpoint and Vicky Cristina Barcelona, he shoots the city like a tourist promo, eschewing litter-strewn cobbled streets and overpriced, undercooked pizza for sun-drenched courtyards and helpful local folk. We know we are in Allen’s fantasy world, and we might as well enjoy it.  

Having stayed behind the camera in Midnight, here Allen writes a “Woody” character into each of the four storylines, and steps in to play the neurotic New York father of Alison Pill’s madly-in-love American, recently betrothed to a Roman lad. Her parents jet over to stay in a posh hotel in the eternal city (Allen’s version of the American tourist never seems to be disadvantaged by the strong Euro) and meet their son-in-law’s family.  

Meanwhile, across town three other story threads are being strung out – Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network) gets advice from Alec Baldwin on how or whether to cheat on his girlfriend; Roberto Benigni’s businessman finds himself thrown into an unexpected bout of celebrity for no apparent reason; and a naïve young Italian couple find their newly married bliss threatened by the wiles of a local callgirl (a characteristically glamorous Penelope Cruz).  
Allen seems to have a preoccupation with adultery, whether in the imagining, the temptation or the action. His cavalier attitude on all counts makes it a bit hard to empathise with any of the characters, as even those jilted fail to tug our heart strings (being negatively affected by such things does not gel with Allen’s worldview).  

The script is typically stagey, but once you settle into the overly clever, self-reflexive dialogue, some of the ideas are genius. The notion that a talented singer performs best in the shower is a wonderful conceit that made me laugh with delight, although, like Benigni’s fifteen minutes of fame, the joke is played a little too long.  

The casting is similarly uneven – Juno‘s Ellen Page has come of age and is superb, Eisenberg and Baldwin get all the best lines (though largely play themselves); but “lovers” Pill and Parenti lack chemistry, and the Italian couple seem like they’re in another movie entirely.  

As with most of his films, Allen concocts a degustation of witty ideas (there is a good running gag on the futility of trying to follow Italian directions) while the characters make direct meta-references to their script. For the most part it’s a barrel of laughs, but after a while you feel you’ve gorged quite long enough.

Hell hath no fury like a blogger scorned

The Social Network

Once again, a film that had me at the trailer – as brilliantly edited and soundtracked as the actual movie turned out to be.   This rendition of Radiohead’s “Creep” performed by the Vega choir’s haunting young voices establishes such pathos for the social trauma of college life – at Harvard University in particular – with its cliques and clubs and the desperation to fit in.  Mark Zuckerberg is a sartorially-challenged computer geek who just wants what anyone in college wants: to meet girls, and to create something significant.  It’s hilarious that the trigger for his ultimate brilliance is being dumped by a girl far more emotionally intelligent than he is, which sends him on a drunken programming all-nighter as he blogs pejoratively about his recent ex and comes up with facemash.com the ultimate revenge against all womankind that invites fellow students to rate the attractiveness of the girls in their class.  Having caused mayhem with the university IT system, alienated the female population and gained notoriety with the administrative board among others, Mark embarks on the creation of what is today the most significant, worldwide social networking system of our time.

Some people worried that a movie about Facebook might be boring, or worse, just lame.  After all, it’s not easy to translate something which is ostensibly about sitting at your computer for hours, in lieu of getting a life, into a cinematic experience.  The success of the film is in fact manifold.  We have a fast-paced script written by Aaron Sorkin (with all the spice and wit of “The West Wing”) which the actors deliver with aplomb.  There are excellent central performances from Jesse Eisenberg (extending his geek-boy repertoire from the wonderful Squid and the Whale and Zombieland), the newly appreciated Andrew Garfield, and even popstar Justin Timberlake (relishing his role as Sean Parker, creator of Napster).  Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails provides a blistering soundtrack.  And of course, hats off to David Fincher for once again creating a yellow-tinted masterpiece of social commentary (a la Fight Club), dramatic intrigue (as in Se7en), giving us a fictionalised account of a true story (like Zodiac) and performing CGI marvels with face-mashes of his own by producing a convincing pair of identical twins from one guy (after his experience on The Curious Case of Benjamin Button).

The film weaves between two strands of narrative: Zuckerberg’s court cases as he is sued for millions after Facebook takes off, and the backstory of how it all came to pass – and it’s a compelling account of how something that is common (and indispensable!) to so many of us came into being.  There are particular delights in seeing the conception of various aspects of the site, such as the Relationship Status and creation of the Wall.  The Harvard frat parties almost make one yearn for one’s university days (not that my experience bore any resemblance).  But at heart this is a human interest drama – ironically revolving around a central character who seldom seems human at all.

The real Mark Zuckerberg apparently thought it was “cool” that Jesse Eisenberg was playing him in the film, which may be taken as something of an endorsement.  But regardless of how much of the story is true, or whose performance might be written off as caricature, The Social Network is a total blast.  Just imagine if everyone whose heart got broken produced a $25 billion business as a result…

 

 

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