Lina Lamont

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

Archive for the tag “Josh Brolin”

Hail, Caesar!

This review first published in the Sunday Star-Times, 6th March 2016

This latest caper by those magnificent Coen Brothers takes us back to the Golden Age of Hollywood, when “aquatic pictures” were a popular artform, and the studio star system made household names out of the forebears of today’s George Clooney, Scarlett Johansson and Channing Tatum.

In a familiar Coen plot, Hail, Caesar! revolves around the kidnapping of Clooney’s leading man, Baird Whitlock. (The Coens, who also write their own films, clearly love their botched crimes almost as much as naming their characters.) Whitlock is snatched from his trailer by an unlikely sect, but in typically Coenesque fashion, his unexpected response to his captors is more Stockholm Syndrome than moral outrage.

As ever, the film is superbly cast from its protagonist, Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), the studio fixer who must keep scandals out of the headlines, to the gossip columnists (Tilda Swinton, playing twins) who roam the manicured lawns at Capitol Pictures, sniffing out an exclusive. Johansson swims; Tatum dances (if we ever needed a successor to Gene Kelly, he’s it).

Throw in small but hilarious roles for Ralph Fiennes and Frances McDormand, and you almost have a sure-fire hit on your hands. “Would that it were so simple,” Fiennes opines, but truth be told, the Coens haven’t quite replicated the sheer brilliance of Fargo or the consistently gripping tone of their Oscar-winning No Country for Old Men.

What they do, however, is effortlessly evoke a bygone era from its set design down to its parlance, and entertain their modern-day audience in spades. Hail, Caesar! has bags of laughs and guileless charm. If you think it gets a bit verbose, you better blame the writers.

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Everest

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

This true story of a gutsy, gripping and ultimately doomed quest to summit Mt. Everest may be 19 years old, but the real-life drama it portrays is still devastatingly current.

In its own right, this superbly-rendered dramatization is absolutely fascinating, but the fact that it tells the tale of one of our own, Kiwi Rob Hall, and depicts famous actors grappling with our especial accent, will make it even more compelling for local audiences.

Hall led a group of adventurous tourist climbers up Everest in May 1996, only to be caught in a snowstorm which crippled their descent, resulting in tragic loss of life.

The film introduces us to the band of mountaineering brothers (with honorary Japanese sister in Yasuko Namba, striving for her seventh of seven peaks) played by familiar American faces Josh Brolin (engaging as the arrogant Texan show-off, Beck Weathers) and Jake Gyllenhaal, impressing as the carefree Scott Fischer, who manages to booze and party all night before climbing into high altitude by day.

Hall (Aussie Jason Clarke from Zero Dark Thirty) comes across as a terrific bloke, warm-hearted and generally sensible about his clients’ wellbeing, while still clearly addicted to the climbing buzz. Keira Knightley is surprisingly affecting, all Kiwi-ed up as Hall’s wife Jan, who stayed at home in Christchurch, pregnant with their daughter. Meanwhile, British actress Emily Watson holds the fort at base camp (you can practically hear her voice coach crying “Flet vells, flet vells!”), aiding our sense of security as the ascent begins, even though we know that trouble lies ahead.

Screened best in Imax 3D, the Kathmandu scenes are vibrant, while sensational aerial photography provides an incredible opportunity to experience Nepal on the ground as well as up the mountain. Once we’ve left base camp, there is some intense point-of-view photography to heighten the experience.

But it’s hardly necessary. There is no question that mountaineering is madness, particularly when we learn that as a human reaches certain levels of altitude, their body starts to die – the aim is to get back down before that happens.

Tragically, this was not to be everyone’s fate, but this faithful, sensitive portrayal may give you some sense of an ecstasy that most of us will never experience.

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.

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 21st September 2014

I walked into the movie house with nerves jangling like a film reviewer who’s heard bad things but is still desperate to be impressed. Sure, I’ve seen the previous Sin City movie, and its ground-breaking animated live action would’ve made James Cameron kick a hole in his green-screen – but that was 11 years ago, and the word on the street is this one doesn’t deliver the same punch. Critics aren’t exactly dumb, you know. But I can get my own answers.

I just don’t trust that Rodriguez. A try-hard, hotshot director who’s always played the wannabe Tarantino. Ah, Quentin – now there’s a guy who knows how to make a hardboiled, girls ‘n’ guns, exploitation throwback. But Rodriguez? Aside from Desperado, seems to me his movies have mostly been tricks turned by cheap callgirls.

As I settled into my seat, the darkness pulled in around me like a blanket. I reached for my pen – you never know when you’re going to need one in a job like this. Reviewing’s like my own personal crusade – to protect and serve.

But as the film rolled, the tightness in my guts unravelled like a fraying rope. Maybe lightning can strike twice. A Dame to Kill For was one of those films that looked as sensational as her sister did back in 2003. I’m wondering why it took Miller and Rodriguez so long to return to Sin City, but no matter – I’m glad they did. Yeah. You heard me – Frank Miller. The guy who wrote the graphic novel. Well, from what’s on screen I’m thinking if he’s co-directing the movie, that’s no bad thing.

Just don’t talk to me about sexist. What neo-noir isn’t going to treat the women as objects? Sure, there’s an awful lot of beauty on screen – enough to make you want to join a gym, or own one. Plenty of luscious naked forms and that kind of coquettish female representation that drives men crazy and women to protest. Don’t sweat it – the dames get mad and they get even. For every pair of hotpants and see-through robe, there’s an Uzi and a sword.

Of course, I’ve seen this type before. LA Confidential was smart but brutal, and it won Oscars for its trouble. For its part, Dame is easier on the eye than the superb but disturbing The Killer Inside Me, which, come to think of it, also starred Jessica Alba. Seems she’s got a thing for dressing in not much and getting roughed up. And another thing – this movie’s got Stacy Keach. The hulking hero who played Mike Hammer on television back in the day. Now, if that’s not a casting in-joke, I don’t know what is.

Along with the violence, it sure is talky. Just listen close to the voiceover – you don’t want to miss stuff like “She isn’t worth a moment’s thought, and I can’t get her out of my head”. Clever talk. Talk so laden with similes and metaphors it’d make a schoolteacher rejoice.

I’ll admit it – A Dame to Kill For won me over. Hell, you may not like the content, but you gotta admit the style’s something else. Spectacularly beautiful, sensationally sexist. Just don’t talk to me about a sequel.

Labor Day

Pitch two of the greatest actors of their generation into an ethical pickle during a hot, sticky holiday weekend in 1987, and you have one of the best films of the year so far. (Yes, it’s only January, but by October you’ll be longing for some quality, so get it while you can.)  

Kate Winslet delivers the flawless performance we’ve now come to expect following Revolutionary Road, The Reader and Little Children, as a paralytically deserted single mom raising her doting son in smalltown America. Virtually housebound, the townsfolk silently accept Adele’s oddity as she relies on young Henry (a superbly mature Gattlin Griffith from Changeling) to play Man of the House now his dad has left. Their insular world is disrupted one summer’s day when an escaped convict (Josh Brolin) charismatically forces his way into the emotional voids each is nursing.  

Adapted by Joyce Maynard (To Die For) from her own novel and directed by Jason Reitman (responsible for such indie beauties as Up in the Air and Thank You For Smoking), this is a beautiful, gentle, beguiling film which also manages to be enormously gripping. Tiny fragments of back story are shown economically through silent scenes in which relative newcomer Tom Lipinski is perfectly cast as the younger Brolin, while the central narrative pushes forward, so rich in detail and atmosphere it feels like it covers far more than a Labor weekend of time.  

Central to the film’s wonder are the performances. Brolin (let’s cite No Country for Old Men rather than the disappointing Gangster Squad) is impeccable – a crim of uncertain provenance who knows how to make the best peach pie, instructing the shell-shocked Adele: “If the phone rings when you’re making a crust, you just let ’em call you back”. The couple’s chemistry is either a testament to their acting prowess or simply one reason why both are such big stars, but no less intoxicating for its inevitability. As Adele sheds the ill-fitting clothes and straggly hair and blossoms under his hothouse attentions, Brolin’s Frank rapidly becomes the poster boy for Stockholm syndrome.  

Tense, romantic and perfectly pitched, this simple tale focuses on high quality drama over tricksy plotting or dazzling camerawork. Plus it has the best pie recipe you’ll ever see.

You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger

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

Years ago, when Dan Brown’s book The Da Vinci Code became the best of sellers, his publishers cannily re-released an earlier work that had failed to ignite – and lo, Angels and Demons also became a hit.

I can only speculate, but given that Woody Allen’s “latest” movie isn’t actually his latest and has been knocking about since 2010 without a release, it feels awfully like the success of Midnight in Paris is being used to entice those of us who still remember that until Owen Wilson stepped into that taxi, Woody Allen’s particular brand of interweaving, adulterous whimsy had gone a bit stale.

Well, I’m afraid Paris this ain’t.

It’s a London tale again, and the unironic American voiceover introduces us to a highly-strung Gemma Jones (Bridget Jones’ mum) whose husband (a pastel-sweatered Anthony Hopkins) has left her for a floozy, and thus vulnerable to the reassuring fakery of Pauline Collins’ spiritual advisor.

While the older parents behave badly, daughter Sally (Naomi Watts, taking this as seriously as she does every role) is frustrated in her marriage to a failing writer (Josh Brolin, terrific despite the script he is being force-fed) and is contemplating getting cosy with her boss, played by Antonio Banderas.

Sorry for the long cast list, but you can see this is a typical Allen movie studded with stars (all of whom acquit themselves well enough, even if the action gets a little tedious). Other Allen tropes include the omnipresent theme of adultery and undeserving people being put ever-so-slightly through the moral wringer before being let free to pursue their undeserved passions.

It’s naturally a little stagey, with over-obvious dialogue like “Don’t have a crush on your boss – that way lies disaster”, and the caricatured performances lend a theatricality to the proceedings.

That said, despite its structural and dramatic flaws, the characters are still diverting enough that you want to stick around to see what happens to them. There is enormous energy in the choreography of long, one-take scenes, and overall, despite its being about rotten people doing rotten things, Woody’s charm still manages to inveigle you.

Gangster Squad

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 20th January 2013

Gangster Squad is a bit of a mixed bag. You think it’s going to be stuffed to the brim with stolen cash, then discover some of it is actually counterfeit, though there is delight to be found at the occasional diamond rolling round at the bottom.

Set in post-World War Two Los Angeles, a bunch of cops join forces to bring down the city’s chief gangster, Mickey Cohen (a prostheticised Sean Penn, ruthlessly cruel despite looking rather like someone out of Dick Tracy). Jaded by years on the battlefield, the renegade officers shrug off the restrictions of their badges and use all force necessary to fight this latest incarnation of evil. Meanwhile, Cohen uses brute force to extract confessions and penance from hapless henchmen (the opening scene bars no holds in its depiction of someone being drawn and not-quite-quartered).

The all-star cast includes heartthrob du jour Ryan Gosling, playing a much lighter version of his Drive thug with a nonchalant gait and the nerve to seduce Cohen’s girlfriend Grace (Emma Stone, cute as a button but too young to convince as a world-weary moll). Gosling’s morally-flexible cop is one of a motley crew conscripted by Josh Brolin’s honourable sergeant-with-fists-of-steel to help defend the city. Actually, it’s Brolin’s pregnant wife, played by The Killing’s Mireille Enos, who determines who he’ll cast in his band of bad-asses. She needs her man home safely since they are “expecting company”. As clichéd a set-up as that is, Brolin and Enos have an easy chemistry and provide most of the film’s rare moments of quality.

Director Ruben Fleischer made Zombieland, a brilliant pastiche of zombie horror movies that provided hilarity and gross-outs in equal measure. His penchant for stylistic flourishes is somewhat tempered in this 1940s period piece, but the odd slo-mo affectation slips through, feeling slightly out of place in what is otherwise a gorgeously-costumed, lit and photographed evocation of Hollywoodland.

However, the story and dialogue is distinctly undercooked. 1997’s Oscar-winning LA Confidential took a similar tack of having police take the law into their own hands, and did it with far greater grit and panache (catapulting Antipodeans Guy Pearce and Russell Crowe into Hollywoodland for real).

By comparison Gangster Squad suffers from parading one-dimensional characters (what’s someone like Grace doing with a villain like Cohen? Why should we care for her?), while relying on the stereotypically lightweight make-up of its misfit squad: the Mexican (hilariously called Navidad Ramirez), the Negro (as he’d have been at the time), the bespectacled technical nerd, the grizzled old-timer. It’s all fun and games, but frustratingly unsubstantial.

Ultimately all we get is lots of pistol-play, engrossing enough at the time but quickly forgettable. With everything it has going for it, it’s a shame that Gangster Squad wasn’t able to roll out the big guns.

Spending ev’ry dime

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps

Among this film’s many incomprehensible clichés dressed up as witty truisms, Gordon Gekko says (and I’m paraphrasing – because frankly this was so incomprehensible and inherently unwitty, I have to break it down for you) – “Money is a bitch of a woman – she watches you sleeping, with one eye open, and you have to give her the attention she wants otherwise one day you’ll wake up and she’ll be gone”.

Huh?

Director Oliver Stone’s original Wall Street starred an as-yet unsullied and unlaughable Charlie Sheen as a young trader who makes millions, lives the high life, gets a conscience, and brings down the big guy (Michael Douglas).  Despite its mid-80s look ‘n’ feel, it’s still watchable and enjoyable in 2010, if only for the sake of living vicariously the lives of the disgustingly rich and Machiavellian for two hours.  And then shaking off the mucky feeling one gets from reading trashy celebrity magazines and coveting material possessions one doesn’t need.  Well, that’s just me.

Imagine my excitement when the trailer screened earlier this year: a haggard Gordon Gekko being released from eight years in prison – the warder details the belongings he went in with – a gold watch; a money clip with no money; a mobile phone… and with a clunk, the classic retro “brick” is placed on the counter.  Gekko walks out with fellow releasees, sees a limo drive up, goes to climb in – and is pipped at the post by a young African American in hip-hop street gear.  Gordon’s face says it all – what is this world he’s returning to?

It turns out his world is one of “frugal” living in a penthouse apartment overlooking Manhattan, a nonexistent relationship with his daughter Winnie (latest English rose, Carey Mulligan, accent wavering), and the attentions of Winnie’s fiancé, Wall Street trader Jake (the dashing Shia LaBeouf, doing his best with mature material but still in my view far too young and unconvincing for the role).  Gordon wants back in Winnie’s life; Jake wants in on Gordon’s expertise.

Apparently Oliver Stone and his crew wrote this film as the 2008 GFC (Global Financial Crisis – keep up now) shattered the jaw of the worldwide banking industry.  I thought this was ingenious – bring back Gordon Gekko as a harbinger of doom, a Sybil that (of course) everyone ignores.  Watch it all go up in smoke.

But instead the film is a mish-mash of complicated (and dull) dialogue about stocks and trades and hedgefunds or something, made “simple” for us non-bankers by use of a split-screen (in case we can’t keep up with who the characters are, and need to be shown who Jake is on the phone to) and fancy computer imagery of fusion energy and… um, they lost me there.  Not that I cared.  What about Jake and Winnie?!  Will she mind he’s been secretly meeting her dad?  Has Gordon’s leopard really changed his spots?  What’s weird about Shia’s hairline??

Stone obviously pulled in a good cast – we get cameos from Susan Sarandon, Frank Langella, and the return of Sylvia Miles as the realtor who lets Jake his apartment (having rented to Charlie Sheen back in 1987).  Josh Brolin, doing well with a 2-dimensional character and boring dialogue, plays the baddy.  Probably one of the most exciting moments (which says it all) was Sheen’s Bud Fox turning up at a fundraiser with two girlfriends.  Nice to see art imitating life.

While I expect so much from Oliver Stone, having been a big fan of JFK, Platoon and even Natural Born Killers (well, it was very of its time), this film disappointed on many levels.  It is flabby and overlong, completely unexciting, and there is nothing at stake for anyone (some of the father-daughter scenes bordered on emotional, but were then dampened by subsequent goings-on).  The real-life chemistry of Mulligan and LaBeouf had some beautiful moments, but couldn’t save the heartlessness of the story.  Probably my greatest annoyance is reserved for the appallingly inappropriate score – a combination of lacklustre David Byrne and Brian Eno songs, and composer Craig Armstrong rehashing his music from 1999’s Plunkett & Macleane (“original music”, my eye).  Never has a movie about stocks and bonds had greater need of some Hans Zimmer to tell us when the stakes are high and lives are in peril.

Incredibly, the film opened today in the States as well as here in NZ (wow! I feel unusually on the ball).  Just in time, then, for me to manage people’s expectations.  I can’t predict how much this will make worldwide, but I suggest Stone sleeps with one eye open to ensure his Money doesn’t walk out in the middle of the night.

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