Lina Lamont

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

Archive for the tag “Mark Ruffalo”

Spotlight

Spotlight is the fascinating, emotionally-charged retelling of tenacious journalistic efforts to expose systematic child abuse in Boston’s Catholic Church. Set principally in the early 2000s, the film focuses on the titular four-person investigative reporting team at the Boston Globe newspaper who unwittingly uncovered offences which spiralled into a shockingly wide-reaching conspiracy of silence.

The heavyweight cast is headed by Michael Keaton (fresh off the Oscar-winning Birdman and here reminding us of how good he was in 1994’s lighter-hearted insight into journalism, The Paper) and includes typically superb acting by Liev Schreiber, Billy Crudup and Stanley Tucci. Playing against his usual laidback type, Mark Ruffalo is uptight and intense alongside Rachel McAdams’ bright, persistent reporter whose investigations lead to unexpected revelations. Every character is serious, committed and articulate, and completely draw us into this enthralling eye-opener.

Writer-director Tom McCarthy has a lengthy acting career which makes him an unusually familiar face for someone now being lauded behind the camera. We have him to thank for intelligent movies The Visitor and The Station Agent, and now the Oscars are rightly knocking at his door, it gives one faith that the industry hasn’t yet died a death from regurgitated remakes, comic book adaptations and YA dystopia.

Instead, eschewing glamour for drama, his very wordy, harshly realistic script demands we listen carefully as devastatingly authentic testimonies are delivered powerfully by unknown actors.

 The film may have captured awards attention due to its “worthy” subject matter, but there is no disputing Spotlight is an intelligent, restrained and completely gripping story which needs to be told.

Advertisements

Infinitely Polar Bear

Some may feel this is a sensitively humorous portrayal of the impact of mental illness on family life, but I am not one of them. The story of a manic-depressive dad (sic – nowadays of course we’d say bipolar, but since this film is set in the ‘70s it reasonably uses the jargon of the era) wreaking havoc on his long-suffering wife and cute-as-a-button daughters before eventually finding equilibrium is nothing more than discomfiting and slightly cringy viewing.

One has to respect writer-director Maya Forbes’ bringing her own childhood to the screen, and therefore acknowledge when we see an overacting Mark Ruffalo riding a bike in red undies and a bandana – in the middle of winter – that this may indeed evoke a direct experience from her past.

But Forbes’ rookie creative misfires include an infernally jaunty soundtrack full of hand-claps and tambourines and an obvious and overly “cute” script. This is her directorial debut, but as a film writer whose experience includes Monsters vs. Aliens and Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Forbes has managed to conscript acting talent in the form of Oscar neglectee Ruffalo (sadly eschewing the nuance seen in Foxcatcher and rendering “Crazy Dad” excruciating) and the lovely Zoe Saldana, who is finally freed from sci-fi epics Avatar, Star Trek and Guardians of the Galaxy to play an unrealistically sympathetic human woman.

The film is a real mixed bag. The precocious children are terrific, particularly Forbes’ own daughter Imogene Wolodarsky who plays the spirited Amelia Lavender, wise beyond her years and a natural at spouting feisty dialogue. But despite touching on worthy issues of gender politics and overcoming interpersonal adversity, Infinitely Polar Bear does a lot while saying very little, ultimately doing no justice to those who experience mental illness, from within or without.

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.

Thanks for Sharing

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 27th October 2013

You may say that a movie starring Gwyneth Paltrow, Mark Ruffalo and the popstar Pink, where people sit around and talk about sex, is simply a transparent, revenue-generating ploy.

Well sure, those are some drawcards. But don’t be put off – we’ve seen enough addiction dramas where it’s booze and drugs that deliver big-name movie stars to the Oscar podium. Now it’s a helpless dependency on sexual congress which takes the spotlight, and in this entertaining yet sobering reflection the emotional scars are no less jagged.

For viewers who echo one character’s assumption that sex addiction is just an excuse people make when they are caught cheating, Thanks for Sharing ought to enlighten on the reality of sex addiction as a valid condition. With the casting of Ruffalo as Adam, a successful New Yorker who is secretly struggling to right some long-twisted sexual associations, we have a much more palatable character than, say, Michael Fassbender in Shame, to disavow us of such a misperception.

It’s warming to remember how good Tim Robbins can be as he plays the addiction group evangelist, fighting his own demons while devastatingly skeptical about his own son’s claims of recovery (an unrecognisable Patrick Fugit who played the kid in Almost Famous). Robbins spouts some of the best one-liners you’ll ever hear, with such gems as “Worry is just a meditation on shit” and “It’s like trying to quit crack while the pipe is attached to your body”. And as for the popstar formerly known as Alecia Moore – Pink is terrific, tapping into the forthright energy apparent from her musical performances but nonetheless believable as a young woman battling the same urges as her predominantly male counterparts. Josh Gad (Jobs) is delightful as the comic foil with his own larger-than-life issues.

Inevitably in a 12-step programme (the sex addicts speak of being “sober”) the film touches on issues of trust and faith, but the story is so well-written that everybody’s ups and downs feel realistic and credible.

Yet again, Ruffalo plays shades of his usual characters, but frankly, anyone plus Ruffalo make a cute couple, and he and Paltrow have some lovely chemistry as their burgeoning relationship is handled with enormous truth.

Thanks for Sharing is a comedy of the deadpan kind, appropriately alleviating some of the darkness inherent in any tale which speaks to addiction as a coping mechanism, while also delivering enormous entertainment.

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.

Due Date, The Kids are All Right, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest

The Final Countdown

As 2010 drew to a close, I managed to sneak in three more films.  Herewith, for the sake of completeness, my musings:

Due Date

I wasn’t going to bother. I mean, I enjoyed The Hangover, and will see pretty much anything Robert Downey Jr. turns his hand to, but the trailer did look rather full of slapstick and base humour, the type (dare I say it – yes I do) that boys like. And when you’re hanging out for 2011’s release of The King’s Speech, Due Date is like the Turkish Delight chocolate in the bottom of the box.

I do wonder when Hollywood scriptwriters and their audiences are going to tire of the “I’ve never taken drugs in my life” Downey in-jokes. And when Zach Galifianakis is going to finally get sick of the typecasting and demand a dramatic/romantic lead. But until that day comes, we are destined to see many more buddy-comedies with mismatched leading men getting themselves into predicaments and then bonding (think Paul Rudd and Jason Segel in I Love You, Man, Paul Rudd and Steve Carrell in Dinner for Schmucks, Paul Rudd and Seth Rogen in Knocked Up… hang on a minute).

To be fair, Downey plays a good straight man, his character sufficiently fleshed out to justify the oscillation between bursts of anger and chastened warmth for the idiot who got him kicked off his flight home, and with whom he must drive across America.  Although Galifianakis feels somewhat exploited for his ability to abandon his dignity for the sake of a laugh, I can’t help but side with the playground bully who first forced him to perform.  From his mincing walk and flamboyant scarves to his naively ridiculous responses to some genuinely emotional situations revolving around paternal loss, Ethan Tremblay steals every scene, and Downey’s Peter graciously abets him.

There is plenty of silly physical humour, peppered with some laugh-out-loud lines that still render this a 3-star (out of 5) film. But it’s no Hangover, and it will soon be time for the filmmakers to observe their talents’ real talent and start using them for something better.

The Kids are All Right

A wonderfully original premise: the children of a lesbian couple seek out their biological father and the family starts a relationship with him – is played out surprisingly and beautifully by acting heavyweights Annette Bening, Julianne Moore and Mark Ruffalo.

The women in particular bring terrific characterisation to the dinner table (and bedroom) as Nic and Jules, happily married for 20 or so years, with two well-adjusted teenagers who call them “Moms”.  When Paul (Ruffalo playing his oft-seen slacker, a role he seems designed for) enters their mix, the moms take to him in different ways – Nic perturbed by and Jules attracted to his laid-back, dope-smoking, attitude; daughter Joni excited and son Laser more skeptical. The family dynamics shift slightly, and lessons are learned along the way.

If anything, Paul’s response to having two ready-made children pop up in his commitment-phobe life is the only slightly untrue note in the film; however, Ruffalo plays this as if meaning every word.  Across town, Nic and Jules feel the impact on their own relationship as much as theirs with their children, and the effects on their expanding family are enlightening as well as painful.  The story doesn’t seek to propagate big ideas, but is nonetheless heartwarming and well-performed.

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets Nest

Yes, I saw the others.  So you’ll have gathered that, so unimpressed was I with the second film, I didn’t bother to review it in these pages.  Having now completed the trilogy, I think it’s worth a few words.

I didn’t read the books, but I understand the filmmakers left out some of the key thriller moments in their final film.  Why, given the 147- minute story which is overstuffed with padding, unnecessary dialogue and sub-plots that in no way advance the main narrative, I do not know.  What the filmmakers did not shy away from, however, is the extreme violence in each of the books.  I do get that our protaganist, Lisbeth Salander, needed to have been treated badly (which is putting it mildly) in order to justify the intense revenge story that followed.  I also appreciate that often people who are hellbent on such a course of action need to shut themselves off from emotion, and appear cold, unfeeling and impermeable.  They might even want to wear dark clothing and have tattoos.  Perhaps a piercing or two.  Often they will have sought solace in the restriction-free, impersonal world of the internet and may be IT whizzes.  I suppose it’s plausible, if a little gratuitous, that they might be lesbian (or at least bisexual).

But rather like in a serial killer movie where the screenwriter has done a spot of research online before writing a character ridden with cliches, to me Lisbeth Salander is a cobble-together of every supposedly antisocial (or “hardcore”) trait imaginable.  On top of this, she isn’t even very likeable.  We feel sorry for her, sure! (she is put through extraordinary ordeals in flashbacks and in the present, to ensure we forgive any resulting murderous deeds).  But overall the films are so grim, and the conclusion so muted and joyless, that even leaving the cinema after 2 1/2 exhausting hours of it, I found it hard to care.

Hornets Nest brings us to the end of Lisbeth’s story (the author, Stieg Larsson, having died before the success of his books, will not be bringing us any more).  I enjoy a good courtroom drama more than most people, and there was sufficient opportunity for there to have been shock and awe on the faces of the prosecution in the denouement.  But alas, as the Swedish film meandered along, the key evidence was leaked to the audience early on, and subsequently lost all impact by the time it was played in court.  Meanwhile, back at the offices of Millenium where journalist/knight-in-shining-armour Mikael Blomkvist is sending the whistleblowing issue to press, we sit through irrelevant backstories about the danger their editor is in, while Lisbeth languishes in jail, spiking her hair and applying eyeliner in preparation for another day refusing to answer questions.

David Fincher is making the inevitable Hollywood remakes as we speak. Normally I wouldn’t give you tuppence for an American version (I gather vampire movie Let Me In adds nothing to its Swedish precursor) but in this instance, I’m going to give Fincher’s a go, simply because he knows how to craft a good movie, and I want my story served rare, without garnish and chutney.

See you in 2011 to discuss whether he managed it.

Post Navigation