Lina Lamont

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

Archive for the tag “John Goodman”

Patriots’ Day

Patriots’ Day recreates the Boston Marathon bombing of 2013 and the real-life manhunt by law enforcement that ensued. It stars Mark Wahlberg as a composite character of several police officers who were instrumental in the case. These facts, and the film’s title which inevitably provokes caution in a non-American audience for whom “patriot” can feel like a dirty word, may have you shaking your head and rolling your eyes.

But the film also evokes the nail-bitingly brilliant United 93 in its assiduous use of facts and its ability to create extraordinary tension around an event with which we are already familiar. It stars John Goodman, J. K. Simmons and Kevin Bacon who portray real players in the game of cat and mouse. And it manages to be desperately moving, respectful and exciting, all in one movie.

Director Peter Berg acted for many years before launching a career behind the camera which produced many of my lowest cinematic moments, notably Battleship and Deepwater Horizon. Remarkably, Patriots’ Day eschews the cheesy script, soaring horns traditional in patriotic American soundtracks and bland acting, and instead puts out a truly heart-pumping thriller which lacks judgement of its baddies and only shuffles a wee way over the line in terms of glorifying its heroes.

Like United 93, the front end of the film focuses on setting up the fateful day and introducing us to the key players: the terrorists and the civilians whose lives will be irreparably changed in the space of 12 seconds. This scene-setting is handled really nicely, particularly the private moments between newlyweds Patrick and Jessica, and the fascinating introduction of a young Chinese app developer Dun Meng (played by Silicon Valley‘s Jimmy O. Yang) whose pivotal role does not become clear until well into Act 2.

Of course, Wahlberg has to have his moments, and while I’m not the big fan of Marky Mark that I have been in the past, he acquits himself fine as a no-BS Bostonian cop who acts as the thread between what otherwise might have felt like a series of vignettes about the days. While some have objected to his composite character, the respect Berg has paid to all involved in the tragedy (including inviting survivors and law enforcement on-set and asking for advice and detail to preserve authenticity) more than makes up for a slice of artistic licence.

Principally, it’s a thrilling ride which seamlessly incorporates documentary footage into the fabrication as the day unfolds, tragedy occurs and justice is eventually served. Moreover, it’s an illuminating glimpse into how the investigation was handled, including a gripping sequence in a warehouse where the crime scene has been reconstructed in which Wahlberg’s cop uses his knowledge of the streets to predict which CCTV cameras may have captured the perpetrators’ moves. Similarly, the gunfight which halted the terrorists’ plans makes for a sensational scene worthy of any fictional Hollywood action movie, and all the more exciting because you know this one has (had) real stakes.

Simmons, Goodman and Bacon play real people whose photos and interviews appear, with those of some survivors, just before the closing credits role – an effect which some viewers may feel re-injects the saccharine into an otherwise admirably matter-of-fact telling. But this coda is indisputably moving, and a necessary conclusion to a harrowing story which delivers a message of indomitable spirit and community at a timely moment in American history.

 

The Monuments Men

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 9th March 2014

Oh my.

George Clooney is a terrific actor who has successfully branched out into directing and producing a raft of terrific movies, often casting his pals while still managing to direct challenging performances out of them.

But with The Monuments Men he either set the bar too high or simply didn’t think he needed to jump. Drenched as it is with a supreme cast (albeit mostly male but for Cate Blanchett’s token French resistance fighter), this true life tale of the American military wading into a subset of World War II in order to save prized European artworks had megahit stamped all over it. Astonishingly, despite its promising credentials, it manages to bore and disappoint.

One viewer’s “rushed” is another’s “economical” as we’re plunged into the story before the opening credits are over. Clooney’s Lieutenant pleads with President Roosevelt to let him take a crack team of ex-military art lovers to Nazi-infested Europe, where the enemy is methodically stealing and destroying the cornerstone of the world’s culture. Amidst lots of expository dialogue (Clooney himself spends much screen-time telling his men things that are purely for the audience’s benefit), Damon, John Goodman and Bill Murray (even Bill Murray is in it!) are joined by Frenchman Jean Dujardin (The Artist) and Downton Abbey’s Hugh Bonneville as Clooney’s Seven tiki-tour across Europe on their mission. There they encounter a sour-faced Blanchett who acts like she wants to swap her Oscars for a cameo in ‘Allo ‘Allo, as the tone switches between limply unfunny (overcooked gags about Damon’s poorly spoken French) and actually-people-died-you-know moments of “pathos”.

While the fast pace presumes to disguise the lack of substance, you still have to keep your ears pricked for plot developments, if you can hear over the unnecessarily pompous “America at War” soundtrack (a disappointed thumbs-down from this reviewer to composer Alexandre Desplat).

Granted, some scenes look like the original Indiana Jones and fun may be had initially from watching the cast pal about (Gosford Park’s underappreciated Bob Balaban is a standout), but for most of its running time The Monuments Men is a massive misfire.

Inside Llewyn Davies

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 23rd February 2014

Despite having grown up watching MGM musicals where the multi-talented stars could sing and dance as a matter of course, it’s still a thrill nowadays when contemporary actors suddenly belt out a tune, using their own voice in a way that elevates them above their Hollywood peers.

And so the revelation that is Oscar Isaac (Sucker Punch, Agora – I know, right, who knew?) takes the stage/screen as the Coen brothers’ latest schlump of a protagonist in this delightfully downbeat tale of a musician whose talent may be appreciated more by his cinematic audience than the record producers he so desperately needs to impress.

Llewyn’s gone solo – not that he sold many records when he had a duo – but what with keeping tabs on his friends’ cat and finding a couch to crash on throughout a bitterly cold New York winter, his lacklustre approach to getting back on the folk music horse doesn’t look promising. Plus, he’s in big trouble with fellow singer Jean (Carey Mulligan, as livid as we’ve ever seen her, and also singing for real as she did so beautifully in Shame).

As in every Coen odyssey, Llewyn’s everyman travails are resonant enough that any viewer would offer up their coat, but it’s the people he encounters who provide the spice in the story. Llewyn’s half-hearted attempts at living life bring him into contact with a series of amusing characters, notably stalwart John Goodman (seemingly having borrowed Javier Bardem’s toupee from No Country for Old Men) and Adam Driver from Girls whose star just gets brighter and brighter as he donates his lovely bass tones to an hilarious rendition of “Please Mr Kennedy”. Throw in a square, bearded Justin Timberlake who just can’t quell his inherent charisma even when he’s a supporting player, and it’s clear the Coens’ new guard is as brilliant as the Macys and Buscemis of yore.

Aesthetically, the film is a dream – a smoky, grey, 1960s winter peopled with period faces and dowdy costumes, punctuated by Llewyn’s brown corduroy jacket and Dylanesque stoop. (Indeed, much of the production design evokes Dylan’s record covers and there are other blatant musical nods to the era with mention of one character’s being stationed in Germany with “Private Presley”.)

While not as plot-driven as No Country, True Grit or Fargo, Llewyn’s road trip from one Big Smoke to another is engrossing thanks to its strong investment in character and the pleasure to be had from recognising the nods to previous Coen films. Accompanied by a delightful folky soundtrack, you’ll want to get inside Llewyn Davis’ world and stick around even after the film is over.

Flight

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 3rd March 2013

Denzel Washington thrives on the big roles, the complicated, flawed characters, the opportunities where he can exercise the intriguing clash between his inherent charisma and the bad guy within (he won his second Oscar as the corrupt LA police detective from Training Day). He is box-office magic, a man for all seasons, and arguably one of the few true “movie stars” of today.

The opening of his latest “tortured soul” drama sets the tone brilliantly. Captain Whip Whitaker wakes groggily next to a beautiful woman, swigs from a beer bottle, snorts a line of coke, and sets off for his day at work. As he swings round a corner with supreme confidence and walks towards the camera in his pilot’s get-up, we are simultaneously appalled and thrilled.

Soon he will be flying a domestic passenger jet with 102 souls a short distance across America. He can’t imagine that the plane will go down, and in due course his high-functioning lack of sobriety will rear up and bite him.

Director Robert Zemeckis boasts a varied body of work, from seminal 80s flick Back to the Future to What Lies Beneath, Castaway and even Jodie Foster’s alien-chasing movie, Contact.

He also knows how to roll out a blockbuster. A solid cast (Bruce Greenwood for grit, John Goodman for flash); a straightforward but involving premise (where once Tom Hanks entertained us, alone on an island, for 2 hours, here Whitaker’s principal conundrum is whether to tell the truth, or let his addiction conquer him). Zemeckis’ regular composer, Alan Sylvestri, appears to have written four movie soundtracks a year since the mid-80s. The legendary Don Burgess shot it. This is an A-team of movie-makers, telling an everyman’s story.

Addiction dramas are nothing new, and often make for uncomfortable viewing though they are undeniably good fodder for carrying the audience along with every “will he, won’t he” moment the protagonist approaches a liquor cabinet (captured with nail-biting tension here). Whitaker’s trajectory from arrogant denial to rock-bottom and potential redemption, while a staple of the genre, is nonetheless gripping. Though not an overtly sympathetic character, it is impossible not to fall under the spell of Washington’s Oscar-nominated, charismatic, high-functioning egoist. Cleverly, at the same time we are left under no doubt about the destruction his substance abuse has caused him and others in his life.

Of course, he can’t do it alone. The supporting cast is universally excellent, notably Kelly Reilly’s ex-addict whose attraction to Whitaker, while cliched, is understandable, and Don Cheadle’s matter-of-fact, morally pliable lawyer. Even John Goodman’s shock-jock drug dealer provides welcome light relief, the perfect comic foil to Washington’s grim concern.

Inevitably for an addiction story, Flight strays into mawkishness towards the end, though one wonders (particularly for a major Hollywood picture) how else it could go. It is to Washington’s credit that he flies it just this side of saccharine, and Zemeckis’ decision to avoid unnecessary soundtrack and hammered-home monologues is admirable.

Argo

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star Times, 21st October 2012

Argo is one of those brilliant, “We couldn’t tell you this at the time”, true stories which has been released from one of no doubt hundreds of secret CIA files hidden away in a dusty basement in Langley, Virginia.

In 1980, the United States Embassy in Tehran was hijacked by Iranian protesters, and the hostages were holed up for many months. Six Americans escaped but had to go into hiding elsewhere in the city. The CIA devised a way to bust them out of Iran by creating an unlikely false cover story: engaging real film producers, they made up a sci-fi movie and told the Iranian authorities they wanted access to scout for locations with their “crew”.

At the helm of both story and movie is Ben Affleck, who directs and also stars as real-life CIA agent Tony Mendez. It’s a tribute to Affleck’s restraint that he plays Mendez as an understated hero, letting Bryan Cranston and the other brown-suited bureaucrats carry the screentime – and Alan Arkin (Little Miss Sunshine) and an ebullient John Goldman steal all the scenes. Look carefully and you’ll recognise the wiry chap behind the massive glasses and ridiculous moustache as up-and-comer Scoot McNairy, currently in Killing Them Softly.

As my old boss would say, be sceptical but don’t be cynical: Ben Affleck isn’t just the star of no one’s favourite World War II drama and Jennifer Lopez’s ex-fiance. If you cast your mind back to 1998, two bright-eyed young chaps leapt on stage to receive their Oscar for best screenplay for Good Will Hunting. Ben and Matt Damon have gone on to carve out serious acting careers, and it’s Ben who has impressed further with his directorial outings.

Gone Baby Gone saw him cast brother Casey as a cop investigating the kidnapping of a little girl, and proved he does good noir. Then in 2010, Affleck produced an excellent heist movie, The Town, showing the darker side of his native Boston and cementing Jeremy Renner as a compelling leading man. This man has directing chops.

Argo leaps into action in the opening scene, then skips nimbly between two threads: the serious business of saving lives, which produces nail-bitingly tense action, and the delicious concept of devising the fake movie, delivering welcome moments of levity. Arkin dismisses Affleck’s concern about personifying a movie director with “You can teach a monkey to be a director in a day”, and the pretend movie’s irreverent catchphrase peppers the script. Reminiscent of Munich in theme but more Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy in design, the cinematography interposes archive newsreel with carefully calibrated period footage (Affleck says he’ll shoot on film until the day it dies). It looks spot-on, right down to the ghastly costuming (beards and bowl-cuts abound). The music used in the film’s denouement is borrowed from Tony Scott’s underrated hostage drama Spy Game and there are bursts of 70s and 80s pop hits.

It all contributes to the immersive effect of this fascinating and often exhilarating trip back into history.

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