Lina Lamont

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

Archive for the tag “Keira Knightley”

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.

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The Imitation Game

This WWII drama traverses similar territory to Robert Harris’ Enigma as one of those true story dramas which, despite our knowing the outcome, still manages to be engaging. Thankfully, 2001’s Dougray Scott and Kate Winslet are today’s Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley, and The Imitation Game’s especial strength is in its performances, in particular Cumberbatch’s central role as Alan Turing, the brilliant cryptanalyst who was instrumental in cracking the German codes.

“Mother says I can be off-putting sometimes, on account of being one of the best mathematicians in the world,” Turing opines to a potential employer, oblivious to the fact that being “really quite excellent at crossword puzzles” won’t endear him to others. Yet the very fine Cumberbatch (who does understated like few other actors) delivers Turing from superciliousness by restraining the potential for camp (Turing’s closeted homosexuality becomes a key aspect of his tribulations) and enabling him to show heart.

Knightley does frightfully-frightfully rather well, holding her own in an immensely likeable cast which includes Matthew Goode (Stoker) and a terrific Mark Strong. Even Charles Dance proves he’s still got it.

This is an old-school spy movie (albeit without the on-the-frontline espionage thrills), chaste and proper and decades away from Bourne and Bond. Despite one rather limp Spartacus moment, the narrative moves at pace, energy kept high by the endearingly insensitive Turing who at least knows that he doesn’t know jokes.

The Imitation Game doesn’t quite do justice to its hero’s significant backstory, choosing instead to focus on his enormous contribution to the war. But it should be enormously appealing to crossword puzzlers and code-breakers, and certainly delivers a rather jolly little romp.

Begin Again

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 20th July 2014

Every now and then a clichéd poster and a trite movie title prove to be completely misleading as to the actual quality of a film. If the thought of watching a singing Keira Knightley and a (typically) dishevelled Mark Ruffalo pick apart their despairing lives while bonding over jazz instinctively turns you off, let me quickly assuage those misapprehensions – because Begin Again is in fact a smart, energetic and largely unpredictable take on the “starting over” story.

We meet Knightley in a New York nightclub, reluctantly pulled on stage by her fellow British expatriate (One Chance’s always delightful James Corden) to perform a melancholy acoustic number she has penned about being alone in a strange city. For reasons not yet shared with us, she’s not had a good day. Then, evoking the film’s title but thankfully eschewing a Groundhog Day sensibility, Ruffalo’s (typically) dishevelled music exec pours out of bed in his scruffy apartment on the morning of the same day, before driving his Jaguar through Manhatton streets, hiffing rejectable demo tapes out the car window in a growing rage. Life doesn’t seem to be going well for him, either.

These two characters’ lives become inevitably entwined, but what makes the film so engaging and rescues it from formula is the deft handling of all of the relationships – romantic, paternal, platonic – which are bolstered by a strong, energetic script and natural performances. Knightley, a fine but oft-maligned actress, is simply excellent – mature and self-assured without being haughty, retaining her native accent and delivering witty banter with Ruffalo (who is also terrific once his character’s “boozy loser” cliché bucks up its ideas and reveals his natural charm). Indie favourite Catherine Keener is reliably dry as the scathing ex-wife, while True Grit’s ingénue, Hailee Steinfeld, is all grown up and well and truly out of pigtails.

Core to the charm of Begin Again are the musical preoccupations of its creator, Irish writer/director John Carney whose smash hit Once charted the burgeoning relationship of two young musicians in Dublin. While this latest tale has been transposed to the sharper streets of NYC and is faced by big-name stars, the creation of music is still the film’s central thread rather than merely a flimsy backdrop for romance. Knightley sings for real as a gang of talented misfits employs a delightfully punk rock way of making non-punk rock music. Even the casting of hip-hop artist Mos Def and Maroon 5’s Adam Levine works out OK – granted, Levine is better is scenes where he gets to play the superstar which clearly comes naturally to him, but his acting doesn’t make you cringe.

Begin Again could have done with a better title, but it is nonetheless a lively, fresh story created by a band of true professionals.

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 19th January 2014

It’s hard to believe Alec Baldwin was the first celluloid Jack Ryan, back in the day when we still had celluloid and CIA agents still fought the Soviets (as in The Hunt for Red October), before Harrison Ford took up the mantle against the IRA in Patriot Games and later in Clear and Present Danger.

But when a forgettable Ben Affleck had a stab at the younger Ryan in 2002’s The Sum of All Fears, Ryan suddenly lost his foothold as the ultra-capable, smarty-pants CIA recruit to Affleck’s best mate, Matt Damon, who burst on to the spy thriller scene as Jason Bourne and has pretty much ruled the genre ever since.

Giving the franchise a reboot, Star Trek‘s Chris Pine plays the titular hero, studying clever-clogs things in London when 9/11 happens, and promptly chucking in his thesis to go fight in Afghanistan. (Asked why he requested such a low-level detail, he earnestly replies: “If I’m gonna serve, I’m gonna serve.”)

With Valour practically tattooed on his forehead, Ryan is plunged into a situation that sees Kevin Costner’s recruiter woo him with the usual “make a difference” come-ons that are thankfully tempered by Brit Kenneth Branagh’s restrained direction (also seen in his intelligent handling of Thor).

Fast forward a decade and, although an analyst with only three weeks’ field training under his belt, Ryan is tasked with assessing a new Russian threat to America. He heads to Moscow where, following a fantastic bathroom fight scene, things quickly get exciting and the tension remains high from then.

There are a few problems, and I don’t mean just with plot holes (surely Russian baddies shoot first and ask questions later?). Granted, Branagh knows better than to pump up the brass band and roll out the Stars & Stripes, but he can’t resist the cliches of the brutal, opera-loving Russian oligarch (played by Branagh himself) and scenes of shadowy figures peering into heavy Hollywood rain.

But it’s all enormous fun, and with Branagh and Keira Knightley maintaining their accents, Pine is left to flex his new muscles and deliver on the action-man goods once and for all.

Unsurprisingly, this latest Jack Ryan adventure seems to have learned a thing or two from both Bourne (the soundtrack and zippy editing) and the recent preponderance of superhero “origin stories”, taking us back to Ryan’s pre-sleuthing days and setting him up as the new go-to guy for terrorist attacks.

On the strength of his first outing, Bourne had better watch his back.

Never Let Me Go

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star Times, 13 March 2011

Kazuo Ishiguro’s 1995 novel plays with notions of freewill – only in his story, the characters don’t seem to have any, and are entirely bound by their fates.  Adapted for the screen by Alex Garland (The Beach, 28 Days Later), Never Let Me Go is sensitively directed by Mark Romanek, a music video maker who, given the quality source material and star-studded cast, may feel his own career trajectory has slipped onto a parallel rail.

Ishiguro is best known for stories where love is felt deeply but suffocated by circumstance and repression (as in the Academy Award winning Remains of the Day).  Here, Kathy (Carey Mulligan) is at boarding school with friends Ruth (Keira Knightley) and Tommy (The Social Network’s Andrew Garfield), experiencing a seemingly happy childhood, if you don’t notice the distinct lack of family or freedom to leave the school grounds.  The revelations unfold in a completely unexpected way, belied by the story’s post-war, middle England setting – but while the audience may be shocked, the characters are by their nature much more accepting.

And herein lies the film’s rub.  Mulligan’s warm, focused performance leads us through Kathy’s story, the pain at watching her friends’ developing romance, and the trio’s anxiety about their mortal predicament.  The characters, however, don’t wear their hearts on their sleeves.  While a necessary, and therefore clever, mechanism, this deprives the audience of the heart the movie is so clearly concerned with.

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