Lina Lamont

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

Archive for the tag “Nicole Kidman”

Lion

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 15th January 2017

4.5 stars, Rated PG, 118 mins

Readers who are familiar with the flow of the cinematic seasons will be rubbing their hands with glee as we enter a period traditionally dominated by 4 and 5-star reviews for films that will be turning up on Awards’ shortlists in January and February. (We call it “Oscar season”, but of course the Golden Globes and BAFTAs also make their judgements at this time of year.)

One strong contender is Lion, about an adopted Indian boy who leaves Australia to search for his long-lost family 25 years later. A well-acted true story which tugs at the heartstrings and co-stars Nicole Kidman, it’s very likely Oscar-bait, but that’s not without good cause.

The incredibly moving story sets off at pace, dousing us with an enchanting soundtrack and spectacular photography as we follow the doe-eyed Saroo (the first acting role for tiny Sunny Pawar, who is absolutely captivating) as he unintentionally boards a passengerless train and is whisked away far from his mother and brother, to bustling Calcutta. Unable to establish where he has come from, Saroo is shuttled from one inadequate situation to the next, encountering shady characters both in and outside the welfare system. It’s an engrossing first act, thanks to the film’s deeply authentic use of local places and people and the desperate storyline which finds relief only when Saroo is adopted by an Australian couple (played with compassion and considerable restraint by Kidman and David Wenham) and takes up a new life thousands of miles from home.

lion

25 years later, older Saroo (now played by Best Exotic Marigold’s Dev Patel) is living an Aussie life devoid of anything which relates to his cultural heritage, when he is prompted to try to retrace his 5-year old steps. Using Google Earth and a fallible memory, his ensuing quest occasionally loses narrative momentum, but since Lion already stole our heart in Act One, we are nonetheless gripped.

The whole thing may sound horrendously saccharine, but Australian director Garth Davis’ first feature is a stunning combination of smart writing (based on the real Saroo’s memoir), perfectly-pitched performances and brilliant use of his locations. While Pawar is a revelation, Kidman is also to be applauded for conveying the nuanced emotions of an adoptive mum while respecting her position as a supporting character in someone else’s film. Even so, she has moments which break your heart. The charismatic Patel does a fine Aussie accent, and Divian Ladwa (a little-known Jack of many filmmaking trades) is excellent as the wayward brother.

Lion is the sort of film you could easily go into feeling cynical, but every aspect of its production, from heart wrenching story to exotic spectacle, makes it a worthy adversary to its fellow nominees.

 

Secret in their Eyes

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 22nd November 2015

Six years after the Argentinian film on which it is based won a well-deserved Oscar, Hollywood delivers its Los Angeles-based version of the crime thriller The Secret in their Eyes. With tent-pole names like Nicole Kidman and Julia Roberts, audiences will be expecting a lot, and indeed, with such strong source material, in theory nothing should have gone wrong.

But while writer-director Billy Ray has a few decent screenplays under his belt (Shattered Glass is a treat, and Captain Phillips won acclaim for Tom Hanks’ calm resilience in the face of Somali pirates), transposing the corruption of 1970s Argentina to the contemporary Californian justice system doesn’t quite convince.

Neither, gallingly, does the supposed attraction between Kidman, the allegedly hotshot DA, and Chiwitel Ejiofor’s dogged ex-FBI agent who unearths a murder case thirteen years after its prime suspect got away. Their flirty banter feels awkward and trivial in comparison to everything that Roberts delivers, her drawn, make-up-free face framed by mousey hair and utterly failing to mask the devastation of a shattered mother. (It may feel like the superstar has gone into semi-retirement, but Roberts certainly hasn’t lost her chops.)

Meanwhile, there’s a criminal to catch and the political machinations driven by an accent-dropping Alfred Molina and bland Kidman risk undermining the deeper, more powerful personal story which sees the obsessive Ejiofor determined to play against the rules for the sake of a greater good. When that story thread is being pulled, Secret in their Eyes is the thriller it wants to be.

Before I Go To Sleep

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 7th September 2014

The promise of a thriller starring Nicole Kidman and Colin Firth ought to be the greatest thing since Dead Calm and Love..? Actually, no, I can’t think of a Firth thriller but I’m sure he’d have been very good in one a decade ago before he became every middle-aged woman’s (and some men’s) fantasy Sexy-but-Sensible Guy.

What if every night your memory was wiped? And when you woke up, your husband had to explain to you (again. And again) who you were and who he was and what had happened? This is the basic but potentially interesting conceit of Before I go to Sleep, a claustrophobic and initially engrossing film shot in the drab greys of a British Anywhere.

It started, as so many movies do nowadays, as a bestselling book by a first-time writer, and goodness knows how faithful the film script is to the novel’s original dialogue, but as soon as we see Firth explaining to a perpetually startled Kidman what her predicament is, you just don’t buy it. Sure, he’s telling us, the audience, the story for the first time, but given the premise is that the “OK, so what happened was…” has been happening every morning for the last 14 years, Firth is remarkably calm and hasn’t yet begun cutting down the details of a well-trodden anecdote. How he gets ready for work in time each morning is beyond me.

As Christine Lucas, Oscar-winner Kidman is disappointingly one-note, all whispery voice and wide-eyed terror. (Gosh, her daily grind must be exhausting, hearing these revelations anew day after day. At least by the time you’ve gone through the wedding album and examined your middle-aged face in the mirror, it’s time for lunch.) Firth, however, hints at something going against type with his grimly-set jaw and psychotically patient demeanour. (Most couples lose patience on the second “I’ve already told you!..”) Add to this British every-villain Mark Strong as the well-meaning doctor who is helping Christine remember, and the film has all the elements of a much better movie than it turns out to be.

Adapted and directed by Rowan Joffe, who made the recent Brighton Rock which was a better movie from a better book, this film will inevitably evoke Memento for its amnesiac-mystery-solver parallels. Sadly the performances pale in comparison and the big reveal, when finally delivered, is an uncomfortable mix of nasty and yawn-inducing.

Grace of Monaco

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 1st June 2014

Although it will inevitably be compared with the Diana biopic which flopped amidst much critical derision last year, Grace of Monaco clearly desires to align itself more with its director’s previous success, La Vie En Rose. Olivier Dahan had a huge hit on his hands with the life of French songbird Edith Piaf, rendered superbly by Marion Cotillard who went on to win the Best Actress Oscar and has since effortlessly crossed the French-Hollywood divide. Given Grace’s European setting, you’d expect more than a little panache and a certain je ne sais quoi in Dahan’s latest.

Hélas!”, as they say in Monaco – Grace makes for as big a disappointment as Diana did for the chap who’d previously made Downfall. Perhaps this is an object lesson in leaving royalty alone.

In theory it should have worked. Say what you like about Nicole Kidman, she has played some good roles in her time and it’s certainly easier to see Her Serene Highness the Princess of Monaco in Kidman than it was to suspend disbelief at Naomi Watt’s painful Princess Di. Even the casting of quality British actor Tim Roth as Prince Rainier needn’t have signalled désastre.

Instead, plod plod plod goes the story – an unsatisfying and just not terribly interesting intermingling of Grace Kelly’s longing to return to the silver screen with Monaco’s political problems as the principality prepares to fight a French invasion. With varying degrees of success, actors swish into shot to portray President de Gaulle, opera singer Maria Callas and Alfred Hitchcock (an absolutely dreadful Roger Ashton-Griffiths whose face you’ll know and name you can forget). Kidman pouts and poses through a terribly over-expository script (in case we don’t know our Monacan history – which alright, no, we probably don’t) and even though there is a climax of sorts, you may not notice it.

However, for many cinema-goers just the setting of glamorous 1960s palace life will be enough. Aristotle Onassis throws a heck of a yacht party, and throughout the film Grace’s costumes are to die for. A driving scene is filmed with old-fashioned back projection, which is a nice touch (though it seems to be setting us up for the tragic denouement of Kelly’s life, which is in fact not part of this story). There is stunning scenery, of course, and a sumptuous oldy-worldy production design.

But ultimately not even heavyweights like Derek Jacobi and Frank Langella can lift the film above a Tuesday night TV movie biopic. While Grace recommits to palace life under instruction to play “the role of her life”, it’s fair to say Kidman should move rapidly forward without a backward glance.

The Railway Man

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

England, 1980. Eric Lomax – “Not a trainspotter, a railway enthusiast!” – meets a woman on a trip across verdant countryside. These two strangers on a train enjoy a brief encounter as the slightly earnest, middle-aged Lomax (Colin Firth, less dapper than we’re used to but still with glimpses of his charismatic Single Man) is entranced by a comfortably forward Nicole Kidman.

The happy pairing that blossoms soon segues into a nightmare of post-traumatic stress as Lomax’s mind returns to Singapore where he was enslaved by the occupying Japanese in 1942. As his wife battles to understand and heal what happened to her husband, Lomax’s traumatic tale is dramatised on screen as our horrifying discoveries become hers.

Jeremy Irvine (War Horse) nails Firth’s speech and manner in his portrait of the younger Lomax, thrown into a grim Boy’s Own Adventure where the building of transistor radios from scrap brings flashes of joy that are swiftly crushed by Japanese brutality. There are harrowing moments of stress and exhaustion as the Brits are forced to build a railway up into Thailand, depicting a fascinating slice of history of how WWII was played out in South East Asia.

The true story of Lomax’s quest for vengeance (based on his book of the same name) is beautifully photographed, each scene peopled by wonderfully authentic character faces and painfully emaciated bodies.

But somehow, despite nuanced performances (including a notable turn from Hiroyuki Sanada from Sunshine), the pace feels a little plodding under the dedicated direction of relative novice Jonathan Teplitzky. Had this project appeared further down his career track, a little more panache may have propelled us to the end with greater commitment to Lomax’s cause. As it is, when the destination is finally reached, the ultimate revelations somewhat lose their punch.

Stoker

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 11 August 2013

If you are feeling disheartened about the state of cinema based on what’s spewing forth from Hollywood, do not fear. Korean director Park Chan-wook knows how to make a compelling movie of real substance, and his collaboration with American Wentworth Miller, Australians Nicole Kidman and Mia Wasikowska and Brit Matthew Goode shows you don’t even need to speak the same language to create hands-down one of the best films of the year.

Miller, best known as the star of TV’s Prison Break, shows enormous talent in his screenwriting debut with this delightfully tense gothic fairytale. Every moment is laden with unease and unanswered questions as we meet young India Stoker (Wasikowska) on the day of her beloved father’s funeral. Her mother (Kidman) is behaving very strangely for a grieving widow, and the sudden appearance of long-lost uncle Charlie seems to have an unseemly influence. Charlie decides to stay a while, and India initially reacts like any sullen teenager would towards the man who appears to be appropriating her father’s life.

A word of advice: Don’t watch the trailer first, as part of the pleasure is having the film unfold before you. Just trust me – from beginning to end, Stoker is a gourmet feast of billowing fabric, enigmatic closeups, subtle imagery and ecstatic piano music (thanks to composer Philip Glass. An unexpected duet makes for one of the best scenes in the film).

The non-English speaking Park directed his cast through an interpreter but they were clearly all of one mind, as the talented handling of the material demonstrates. Goode (A Single Man) is extraordinary as the beguiling, untrustworthy uncle, and Wasikowska nails perfectly her rendition of an easily influenced young girl who houses a feisty spirit. Even Kidman, who has a tendency to relish these “complicated” roles but sometimes falls into pastiche, plays it just right. The air is heavy with sexuality throughout, and everyone looks a million dollars.

Park’s history (a series of artistic, violent revenge movies exemplified by the critically acclaimed Old Boy) didn’t necessarily foreshadow a move into esoteric English-language arthouse – and yet, at the same time, the quality of his Korean works makes the magnificence of Stoker unsurprising.

He does cinematic storytelling at its best in this exquisite, exhilarating film.

Those who Cannes, go

As the Twilight fans screamed for K-Stew, I headed off to rewatch Roberto Rosselini’s devastating Voyage to Italy on the big screen, restored and in English, just because I could. It’s a gutting tale of a marriage disintergrating (at least, this is my take from the husband’s apparent apathy and the wife’s wounded bitterness), and most interesting is the fact that Rosselini was directing his then wife, Ingrid Bergman, while their own marriage was falling apart. It is too easy to read into the lines of the script the director’s inner feelings on the situation, but I suspect papers have already been written on the subject, and I speak with no knowledge or insight, only a sad sense of what it feels like on the screen. Dreadful but riveting.  If some of it resonates with personal experience, more’s the better/worse.

All very improving, but nice to leave the cinema knowing that there were some contemporary, unexplored films to enjoy the following day.  Which brings us to The Paperboy.

Director Lee Daniels shot to fame (or at least success) with his hard-hitting Precious a couple of years ago – the film that garnered singer Mo’nique a well-deserved Oscar and provided a launching pad for the career of newcomer Gabourey Sidibe, in a brutal, nasty, yet realistic and gripping story of the abuse suffered by a young woman with no prospects living in Harlem. Grim doesn’t even begin to describe it, so quite how I thought that just because Daniels’ new film stars Zac Efron and Nicole Kidman it’s bound to be light-hearted, I do not know.

The Paperboy does start light, however, or at least, kooky. Kidman has a fun time playing a trashy Southern belle who writes letters to death row inmates, falling in love with John Cusack’s grotesque killer and agreeing to marry him. His case is not deemed sound, however, and Efron’s big brother in the newspaper trade comes down from Miami to investigate the case and attempt to free the wrongly convicted Cusack. With Matthew McConaughy, a surprising turn from Spooks‘ Danny (David Oyelowo) and Macy Gray providing the staple black-singer-turned-actor-in-a-Daniels-movie, the cast and their individual performances make for initially amusing viewing. The story (based on a novel, like half of the films In Competition this year) is a bit all over the place though, as is the style (I’ve heard objections to Daniels’ use of several different cinematic techniques while not committing to any one, and someone else here “of influence” merely described his direction as “incompetent”; get a bunch of critics in a room and they don’t sugarcoat it!). Actually, I thoroughly enjoyed this nasty little tale, despite its technical and artistic flaws, though one perhaps sensed a coolness from the cast (all of the aforementioned) who appeared at the press conference. So far it seems to be universally critically panned, so its future may lie in the balance. One thing’s for sure: it’s not a ‘Zac Efron movie’ and teenage girls and young men & women of a certain age are best warned. But it gives Cusack an opportunity to rid himself of the 80s and 90s movies that saw him the thinking teen’s heartthrob, and it showcases Kidman’s considerable talents.

What better to follow up a nasty little crime picture than a documentary about a nasty miscarriage of justice. The Central Park Five recounts the 1989 travesty of five black and Latino youths convicted of the brutal rape and beating of the Central Park Jogger, a case that horrified NYC at the time, and latterly horrified those who came to realise the boys had nothing to do with the crime. The film seems twenty years too late in a way, but since the key turning point occurred in 2002 in a very dramatic turn of events (though sadly completely underplayed in the movie), perhaps it is only a decade late. As shocking as the facts are, the film fails to deliver the punch it should, despite beautifully shot footage and eager inteviewees. It is worth checking out, but pales in comparison to the recent Paradise Lost trilogy about a similarly outrageous true story.

A third film on Thursday (as panic sets in that Cannes only has a few days left to run!) – a Russian movie called In The Fog. Touted as a war film which eschewed battle scenes in favour of a gripping tale of a moral dilemma, I was intrigued (I love a good moral dilemma, me). Three reluctant soldiers are traipsing through the bleak forest in various stages of freedom. One is assumed to have betrayed his fellow Russians to the occupying Germans. Another is charged with killing him. The situation is turned on its head. Sounds OK, right? All the more so given the director’s clever use of very long takes to build connection between the players and grow tension. Much of the time it is a bit like watching a very dry Russian play, the dialogue initially sparse but latterly slowly conveyed. It is a peaceful film as far as war films go, but loses its way in the fog somewhat as it finds its conclusion. An interesting exercise which I will let settle before knowing how/whether to recommend.

Finally, rounding off a busy day, had a fantastic dinner out with the fine Canadian family I have been hanging out with (film critics and journalists all) before crashing out past midnight and then getting up before seven again for Cronenberg’s eagerly awaited Cosmopolis

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