Lina Lamont

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

Archive for the tag “Rosamund Pike”

Hector and the Search for Happiness

This is a bit of a yo-yo of a film. The longwinded title is a little off-putting, suggesting children’s story meets self-help book. But then you notice the font used is like the Tintin books! and following a thrill-seeking intro that sees a Tintin lookalike in peril in a small plane, the adventurer’s curiosity in us all is surely piqued.

So too there is an ambivalent enjoyment as the story unfolds. The set-up is terrific in wit and pace. Simon Pegg plays the titular psychiatrist who spends his days being paid benevolently low fees to coax his clients to happiness. His own life seems perfect – a beautiful girlfriend Clara (Gone Girl’s Rosamund Pike) ensures everything is in order (“Time to rise, time to shine!” she crows as he removes his anti-snore strips), and the bonny clarinet soundtrack shows us Hector is comfortable, stable and loved. However, something is (inevitably) missing – so Hector heads off on a voyage of Tintinesque proportions to discover What Makes People Happy.

Pegg has the perfect demeanour for a boy-explorer and had Peter Jackson’s Tintin film been live-action, he would have been an obvious casting choice (ironically Pegg was instead one of the animated Thom(p)son twins). His naïve British charm is aptly suited to Hector’s well-meaning, slightly bumbling exploits as he encounters a raft of international characters from China to Tibet to Africa. Pegg skips easily from physical comedy to genuine warmth as Hector’s connections with strangers play out a timely indictment on first-world problems and malaise.

Director Peter Chelsom presumably has “Means Well” as his middle name, with a career in lightweight fare such as Serendipity and Shall We Dance? Here he has corralled a heavyweight cast (Stellan Skarsgard, Jean Reno, Toni Collette) in a smorgasbord of exotic locations, and it is thanks to fine actors like Collette that the narrative mostly stays on message (even if the message isn’t new).

Reminiscent of Ben Stiller’s The Secret Life of Walter Mitty in tone and story, we have a slightly daft, grown man with good intentions having unexpected revelations so that we, sitting in a movie theatre, can open our own minds to the endless possibilities our world offers. None of us is going to encounter a drug cartel or Skype from a Tibetan monastery, but it’s nice to live vicariously. It’s just a shame that, by treading so lightly when the underlying message is so potent, Hector will probably leave most of us largely unaffected as we trudge back into the real world.

Gone Girl

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 12th October 2014

A couple of years ago, Gone Girl was the book you couldn’t put down until its final, gasp-out-loud revelation – and then once you’d put it down, you were left thinking either “Golly, I’m lucky my partner is so wonderful” or “Yup – relationships suck”.

Gillian Flynn’s novel takes the “he said, she said” structure of alternating narrative voices to nasty extremes in its exploration of the tribulations of married life – in this instance, the world of Nick and Amy Dunne, two beautiful young people for whom the melodic opening bars of true love have started to ring flat. When Nick comes home one day to an empty house and signs that Amy has been abducted, he finds himself subject to the scrutiny of America. After all, in this age of reality crime shows and tabloid sensationalism, everybody knows the perpetrator is usually related to the victim – so as the police descend to make sense of the crime scene and put a Missing Persons investigation into motion, Nick finds himself dragged through the media wringer. But what’s really going on, who is to be believed, and where is Amy?

There is no one better to handle this often grim, regularly misanthropic subject matter than Oscar-nominated (and disgracefully rejected) director David Fincher. Having made his early career mark with the excoriating Se7en, he showed his gift for adapting tricky storylines to the screen with Fight Club, and latterly the “Hollywood” version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (which in my view was much more watchable than the original). Here Fincher has wisely collaborated with Flynn herself to whittle the highly involved page-turner into a snappily-edited, well-paced indictment of both the evils of relationship malaise and the iniquity of media manipulation.

Gone Girl’s casting is a joy – from a “faithful to the book” perspective, Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike are so natural in their roles is feels like the story was written for them. But even putting aside preoccupations of adaptation for a moment, both actors are simply superb at conveying the layers of characterisation necessary for us to love/hate/love them and to believe these fallible human beings might just represent elements of each of us. Neil Patrick Harris is just the right side of slimy as Amy’s ex-boyfriend Desi, while hitherto unknown actress Carrie Coon has graduated abruptly from three years in television to grab all the best lines of dialogue from Affleck and spit them back in his face. Mercifully, she also provides us with the blackest laughs.

All the Fincher hallmarks are present and accounted for, from the yellow tinged photography to the new age industrial soundtrack created, as usual, by Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor and co-scorer Atticus Ross. As omnipresent as the music is (some may consider this an over-egging), it certainly ensures your stomach stays knotted throughout the two and a quarter hour running time, while you watch the threads of the story start to fray.

Gone Girl is an unsettling yet gripping book, and Fincher’s excellent film delivers the same schadenfreudian thrill.

Jack Reacher

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 30th December 2012

Let’s get one thing out of the way – Tom Cruise is great. Playing the eponymous hero of Lee Child’s best-selling novels, admittedly he is “supposed” to be taller, more rugged, “a drifter with nothing to lose” (which Cruise clearly is not) – but Cruise plays it like he did in A Few Good Men and keeps us engaged, even amused, throughout the two-hour running time.

Child is evidently a success because he knows how to spin a yarn, and since his book is adapted by director Christopher McQuarrie (writer of The Usual Suspects) this tale delivers in spades. Evoking 90s whodunit movies like Kiss the Girls, it sets up a shocking crime, throws us some curve balls, introduces a renegade protagonist who immediately intuits that all is not as it seems, and then partners us on a merry dance.

Crucial to our engagement is the support of ex-Bond girl Rosamund Pike and fellow Brit David Oyelowo (still best known to me as Danny from Spooks). The ever-excellent Richard Jenkins plays the district attorney against whom Reacher and his lawyer must fight to uncover the truth. Even Robert Duvall gets in on the action. The only slight miscasting is legendary director Werner Herzog as the German-intoned Russian baddie.

Once all the surprises are revealed, however, the goody and baddies lay down their guns and engage in a pretty standard rain-drenched bit of mano a mano. But, despite this Jack Reacher is a force to be reckoned with, and Cruise owns him.

Johnny English Reborn

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star Times, 9th October 2011

Five years after a botched operation in Mozambique, debonair but bumbling British agent Johnny English is brought out of enforced retirement at a Buddhist retreat in Tibet, where he has been sent to forget his shame and shed his weakness. Aside from an involuntary nervous twitch and slightly greyer hair, he’s in good shape. And so, gleefully, Rowan Atkinson returns to our screens in a role that mixes perfectly his gift for physical comedy and the dulcet tones that could entice many a Bond girl into bed.

Much more sophisticated in its scripting and production than the previous Johnny English outing, the film clearly takes its lead from the recent Bond and Bourne movies, including a now-obligatory rooftop chase scene which brilliantly sends up those other earnest and much more physical heroes. There are clever modern touches in the head of MI7 being a working mother, although coupled inevitably with the overused Bean-esque instances of mistaken identity and embarrassing faux-pas.

This spy-spoof borrows its fine cast from the very best television (The Wire, West Wing, and X-Files are all represented), and even throws in a real Bond girl for good measure (the delicious Rosamund Pike), a psychologist who tells the enchanted agent “I read people”. To which he replies, ever the charmer, “I think you’d find me a real page turner.” While Atkinson as romantic lead may stretch credibility, he hasn’t lost his comic touch, eliciting tear-inducing laughter through something as simple as a malfunctioning chair. It’s nothing new, it’s not consistently clever, but Johnny English Reborn is a belly-laughing, family-friendly delight from beginning to end.

Barney’s Version

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star Times, 29th May 2011

Sometimes a film is so laden with casting coups you can’t quite believe it’ll be as good as you hope.  Thankfully, the ensemble in Barney’s Version seem to be having the time of their lives, and the resulting film is a treat.

Paul Giamatti (best known for 2004’s Sideways but wonderful since) plays Barney Panofsky, whose three marriages, various business ventures, exotic travels, characterful family members and a murder accusation provide ripe fare for cinema.

We meet him, drunk and embittered, towards the end of this story, when life insists he casts an eye back over the slings and arrows.  Following his first ill-fated marriage (“She’s a conversation piece, not a wife!”), Minnie Driver steals some scenes as Wife No.2, the Jewish princess at whose wedding reception Barney falls for Rosamund Pike’s exquisite Miriam (and, appalling as this seems, we can understand why).  Dustin Hoffman offers superb support in every sense as Barney’s loyal dad, and Scott Speedman (no doubt relieved to be free from Underworld) is enjoyable as the womanising wingman.

Based on Mordechai Richler’s deservedly prize-winning comic novel, this is a blast from first scene to last, though you leave the cinema glad to have experienced Barney’s bittersweet version of events vicariously, and not to have had to live it.

 

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