Lina Lamont

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

Archive for the tag “Russell Crowe”

The Nice Guys

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, May 2016

4 1/2 stars

Yep, you read that right. 4 and a half stars for a crime caper comedy set in the 1970s, with a paunchy Russell Crowe and a ditzy Ryan Gosling eating up the cinema screen and causing more hearty laugh-out-louds than any comedy in recent years. And I mean funnier than Deadpool.

The pair play low-grade private investigators hired to solve the case of a murdered porn star, who find themselves fighting for their own lives around the winding roads and flash parties of the Los Angeles hills. Gosling’s loser solo dad, Holland March, is a treat to watch, with Crowe’s iron-fisted bully boy the perfect (smarter) foil. Best of all, these men of society’s underbelly aren’t all about the dames – the film’s love interest is March’s precocious teenage daughter (a sensational break-out performance by Angourie Rice) who becomes an unofficial third wheel on their wobbly, crime-solving bicycle.

Writer-director Shane Black clearly has a golden touch and should be in charge of all funny, clever movies to come out of Tinseltown from now on. It’s little wonder his Hollywood career became established (after he’d blessed the 1980s with his script for Lethal Weapon) during a subsequent production line of rewritten scripts as the studios called upon his panache with witty dialogue and pacy action to save their films. Then, in 2005 he inveigled his way into every film-nerd’s heart with his directorial debut Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, starring a charismatic Robert Downey Jr. (newly sober and signalling the brilliant career that was to follow) and epitomising the fast-paced meta-commentary that has become Black’s calling card.

Black was latterly given the reins to the enjoyable-enough Iron Man 3 but, although somewhat delirious, The Nice Guys is firmly of the Kiss Kiss genre – a send-up of buddy cop movies with the wittiest of dialogue, impeccable acting by two actors we know can do serious (and here just seem to be having a whale of a time) and all the meta-jokes you can handle – without having to resort to Deadpool’s on-the-nose “Hey, look, I was being self-referential!”ness.

Violent, sweary, but above all clever and satisfying, these Guys are more Awesome than Nice.

 

 

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The Water Diviner

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

Say what you like about Russell Crowe, but the man cares a lot. Giving everything to a role (even though Noah was the cinematic lowpoint of my year, there’s no disputing Crowe’s commitment), he has turned out many a fine, Oscar-worthy performance in his career.

The Water Diviner is Crowe’s exceptionally well-meaning directorial debut and, as befitting the egotistical one, he also stars in it as the titular father, Joshua Connor, who travels to Turkey four years after the battle of Gallipoli to search for his three sons.

The narrative ploughs forward as the grieving Australian encounters chatty street urchins and beautiful single mothers (all speaking impeccable English), while flashbacks spell out the likely demise of his beloved children.

Worthy as ever, in this tale Crowe has sought to give voice to the Turks’ side of the infamously disastrous campaign in World War I, though he does not court controversy – here the Turks, too, are grieving, yet generally willing to help this face of the Allied enemy.

This is all very well, but the clichéd narrative undermines Crowe’s attempt at a serious picture – there is an inevitable romantic subplot (heavily signposted in the coffee grounds) and saccharine moments in slow-motion prevail over the well-rendered scenes of the devastation of war.

Crowe has sprinkled his movie with an international flavour, casting several Turkish actors alongside Soviet-born Olga Kurylenko (Oblivion) and various compatriots who play Poms and Aussies (Jai Courtney’s native Australian accent finally proves he can actually act without having to wave a gun around).

Lit in golden hues and shot across Australia and Turkey, the film occasionally transports you to an exotic world.

But for the most part, The Water Diviner is merely a serviceable wartime story with basic acting and predictable character development. One can’t help but feel Crowe ought to stick to acting his heart out in other people’s superior movies.

Oh Noah he didn’t – NOAH film review

I don’t Noah bout you, but I think of Russell Crowe as a great actor. Sure, for every The Insider and A Beautiful Mind there’s a Broken City and some interview where he comes off as a jerk, but Crowe has consistently proven his heft in carrying big films. Even when he’s singing slightly off-key as Javert in Les Mis, the one thing you can’t criticise is his commitment.  

When equally earnest filmmaker Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan, The Wrestler) offered Crowe the role of Noah, it’s no surprise the unashamed egotist couldn’t turn it down. While comics, young adult fiction and foreign blockbusters are constantly being mined to feed the Hollywood monster, the Bestselling Book of All Time has been largely left alone. Good on Aronofsky (and co-writer Ari Handel) for braving the inevitable controversy and seeking to tell an epic tale on a modern scale.  

Bad on them for coming up with the biggest load of old rubbish I’ve seen in a year.  

Slamming a passion project which all parties involved took completely seriously is not big or clever. Furthermore, I genuinely wanted to love this film. One thing the big studios do well is render massive natural disasters (or, in this instance, literal Acts of God) incredibly well, manipulating us through CGI and an exciting soundtrack into marvelling at the destruction of our world.  

Inexplicably, Aronofsky (for I lay the blame squarely at his feet, saving my pity for his hapless cast of mean-wellers who are gipped by a banal script and dreadful story) takes artistic licence too far and delivers an unequivocal mess of bad acting (Ray Winstone, playing Ray Winstone, descendant of the murderous Cain; Emma Watson reverting to crinkle-browed Hermione again) and cringe-making fantasy sequences of animals flocking to the ark that Noah intuits he must build, ASAP. Granted, Noah’s dreams are nicely evoked, though his Holmes-like deduction of what The Creator wants of him is something that we, like his wife (an earnest, tear-and-snot-ridden Jennifer Connelly) must take his word for.  

To be honest, it might have been OK were it not for the rock monsters. You heard me right. Following an introduction to Noah’s backstory of descendancy, it goes all supernatural and superstrange as large talking creatures made of boulders – looking like something out of LOTR – are introduced into the Creation story as “The Watchers”: creatures whom The Creator made to look over humankind until it had behaved SO badly, He decided to just flood the world and start over. But a planet-destroying deluge was presumably not enough for the narrative arc, so a revenge tale is built in so that we have a human to hate, even though Noah is portrayed as morally reprehensible and dogmatic in his dedication to his “task”, and everyone knows no one likes religious dogma in their lead characters. Honestly, at times you wonder if you are watching the filmmakings of a deranged man.  

The film may well offend Christians and non-Christians alike, simply because it doesn’t do anyone’s beliefs any justice. It will offend cinephiles who are unable to suspend their horror at the shaky-cammed, gratingly loud, pseudo-mysticism of it all. And it will brass off the busy people who needed that two hours for something else. You can put me in with all three.

Man of Steel

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 30th June 2013

If you were hoping for a fresh, new take on the Superman origin story, or even if you never knew the original tale, audiences should be more than happy to spend a couple of hours getting to know this new Clark Kent from scratch.

From the opening scenes it’s all-action – the planet Krypton is going into meltdown, and scientist Jor-El (Russell Crowe) must protect his newborn son from the evil machinations of fellow Kryptonite, General Zod (Boardwalk Empire’s Michael Shannon). The baby safely despatched through space to a foreign land, treachery and murder ensue. The tale then transposes to Earth, where a handsome itinerant worker is failing to make friends or leave a lasting impression, other than by his ability to single-handedly save a bunch of men from a burning oil rig, and then disappear.

As befits an origin story, the film flashes back and forth in time as the young Clark battles sensory overload and powers he doesn’t understand, while restraining himself against bullies. His unconditionally loving parents (an admirably plain Diane Lane and reliable Kevin Costner) support him, though dad recommends early on that the special kid keeps his tricks to himself. This backstory sits nicely against the action unfolding in the present day, as the older Kent is challenged, at age 33, with stepping up as either an enemy or saviour of Earth.

Twinkly blue eyes, dimpled chin and crooked Englishman teeth, with this role The Tudors’ Henry Cavill has shot, straight-armed and at high-speed, into the big time of blockbuster comic movies. Supported by a fine cast that mixes Oscar nominees with commercial dead-certs, Cavill plays the small-town lad with extraterrestrial powers as someone we believe in and even care about.

Unlike Thor and Iron Man, there are very few laughs, and the grainy, bleak aesthetic of director Zack Snyder’s palate espouses the sincerity which all the actors employ in delivering fairly standard “planet in peril” dialogue. Remarkably, given Snyder’s history on the considerably flashier Sucker Punch and Watchmen, he manages to convey gripping drama – albeit interspersed with long and loud fight scenes. No doubt co-writer and co-producer Christopher Nolan (with his solid comic credentials in the latest Batman franchise, and his élan in Inception) can be thanked for this.

That said, it’s not po-faced or humourless – and even though the suit is faintly ridiculous (with no explanation posited as to why a man who can hold up a toppling building even needs one), Cavill plays so earnest and well-meaning throughout that we accept his costume without a sneer. Similarly, his burgeoning love affair with a gutsy Lois Lane (Amy Adams) is touching rather than clichéd.

There are some clever touches – the alien enemy knows humans are umbilically attached to their TVs and smartphones, and the otherwise invincible race is literally deafened into submission (and thanks to Hans Zimmer’s glorious, Inception-inspired score, so are we).

Man of Steel does go on a bit long, there’s an awful lot of carnage, and some may be amused by the Jesus-like posturings of our 33-year old saviour. But if our planet is ever in peril, I know who I’m gonna call.

Broken City

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 17th March 2013

Wahlberg and Crowe! Big names touting high hopes for a movie that turns out to have an embarrassingly low IQ.

Directed by Allen Hughes, whose most recent film is an 8-minute short starring Eninem and Dr Dre, Broken City plays out like a Wednesday night DVD rental from the bargain bin. A corrupt mayor. A shady police commissioner. A disgraced cop reduced to making his living sorting through life’s trash as a private investigator.

The novice screenplay boasts a paper-thin plot as Mark Wahlberg’s emotionally-burdened Billy Taggart (nothing like as gritty and interesting as his Scottish namesake), is employed by Russell Crowe’s mayor to follow his possibly duplicitous wife (a mercifully underused Catherine Zeta-Jones). The scene in which the mayor gives the PI his orders is shot with the camera swirling relentlessly around the actors as they spout every cliché in the book. Perhaps this is an attempt to convey drama that is otherwise completely lacking in the lame script, but instead, the aesthetic fail may just make you feel sick.

Key plot exposition is relayed by phonecall, with the obligatory signposting: “But Billy – be careful“. Quite why the leads got involved is anyone’s guess, but the heroes of Boogie Nights and The Insider have plummeted in my esteem. Perhaps they just can’t resist a dare.

Film review LES MISERABLES

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 6th January 2013

If you’re already a fan of hearing the people sing the songs of angry men, you’ll be eagerly awaiting the release of Tom Hooper’s (Oscar-winning director of The King’s Speech) cinematic rendition of the hugely popular stage musical. It answers the question “Can one successfully bring theatre to the big screen?” and drops the guillotine on any qualms about the casting of actors-before-singers Anne Hathaway, Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe.

Victor Hugo surely never imagined his 1862 French historical novel about revolution, grace and impoverished death would be set to song, but ever since the mid-80s we have been flocking to West End productions, singing along to the CD, and performing the musical numbers at school. (There have been umpteen film versions of the book, but apart from concert movies, this is the first film of the musical.)  

The story starts with Jackman’s Jean Valjean being released from 19 years’ imprisonment for stealing a loaf of bread, and Inspector Javert (a typically earnest Crowe) is established as he who will hunt Valjean for the rest of the story. Valjean’s ensuing “rehabilitation” from prisoner to prominent townsman brings him into contact with the desperate Fantine (Hathaway, whose performance of signature song “I Dreamed a Dream” is a tour de force) and later Fantine’s daughter Cosette (Amanda Seyfried from Mamma Mia whose singing voice, though tuneful, unfortunately evokes the Chipmunks).

The actors sang live on set rather than pre-recording and then lip-syncing, and Hooper has employed a more theatrical method of filming many of the core numbers in one long shot, which is impressive indeed as Eponine sings with a broken heart and Fantine teeters on the brink of death without the camera cutting away.  

Alleviating the bleakness are Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter as the fetid, dishonest Master and Mistress of the House. The young children are terrific, the chorus of young men at the barricades sing like a choir of baritone angels, and the biggest surprise of all is the extremely accomplished Eddie Redmayne (My Week with Marilyn) as Marius.  

Reminiscent of Moulin Rouge in its style and bombast but without the twinkle in its eye, this is a faithful adaptation with only a few shifts in dialogue and one new song (created specially by the original composer). Somehow the medium of film makes the narrative much clearer, a blessing considering the film’s length, its only inescapable downside. However, at the end of the day it’s a jolly good show.

A week of it

Now, where were we? A couple of French films, I think… And in the last week or so there have been more like that, plus a couple of blockbusters. Herewith:

Robin Hood

Oh Russell. Or rather, oh Ridley.  I thoroughly enjoyed Gladiator, thought it was a terrific film – so I’m not dissing the collaboration here, or even the style (the similarities abound).  And Cate Blanchett is a far superior “Maid” Marion than that dreadful Sienna Miller would’ve been.  But really – this retelling of the story (“retelling” – really? or just “concocting a new story that really has nothing to do with the Robin Hood legend”?) simply doesn’t offer anything new or exciting in cinematic or narrative terms. The battle scenes (“Battle scenes??” I hear you cry.  Yes – this is no feisty band of brothers – there are whole armies) are just like Lord of the Rings‘ and any number of contemporary epics over the last decade.  The story is all a bit Kingdom of Heaven.  And Russell, fine actor that he usually is, just faxes in his Gladiator performance with a few bits tippexed out, and doesn’t even nail a consistent accent.  Come on, Jeffrey Wigand!

It’s not awful. There are solid performances from Douglas Hodge, Oscar Isaac (who could have been so much more irritating, but luckily kept it together) and Mark Strong. Eileen Atkins’ brief moments were typically spot-on. Matthew Macfadyen’s got a bit fat, but he does a reasonable line in “sinister”. Cate does her best with a thin script and little character depth.  It’s just not that interesting, memorable or innovative. Frankly I expected more from filmmakers and talent of this calibre.

Iron Man 2

I saw Iron Man in Paris in 2008, by myself, laughing raucously (by myself) at bits the French audience didn’t seem to find funny.  Loved it.  But having heard mixed reviews about the sequel I went in with low expectations – and it paid off.  I always enjoy Robert Downey Jr, and am a loyal fan of Gwyneth Paltrow (her Pepper Potts doesn’t have much going on, but for some reason I find her hairstyles captivating).  Mickey Rourke does a very good avenging Russian, no doubt aided by his now unnaturally worked-over facial features.  Sam Rockwell looks a bit too Austin Powers but I’d marry him in a heartbeat, so all is forgiven.  Scarlett Johansson delivers the only bum note, unnecessarily bland and a 2-dimensional composite of far superior female action heroines – but, no matter.

On the whole the film is just one big, silly, fun night out.  It’s all about spectacle, and to be fair there were plenty of major laugh-out-loud moments in the script too. (About a weapon shaped like a pen: “If it were any smarter, it’d write a book. A book that would make ‘Ulysses’ look like it was written in crayon …”)  Ah well, I guess it just caught me at the right time.

Brothers

The original Danish film is claustrophobic and gritty, superbly acted, and potentially a hard act to follow (highly recommended – rent it).  It’s a tribute to the three excellent lead performances in the US remake that Brothers still had the emotional impact for me, despite my knowing what happens.  Tobey Maguire (where’s he been since Spider Man??) plays a soldier who is kidnapped in Afghanistan, leaving two daughters and a grieving “widow” who all understand him to be dead.  Jake Gyllenhaal re-enters the family’s life, fresh from a stint in prison, and develops an attachment to the children and his brother’s wife, played with quiet intensity by Natalie Portman.  I found her performance in particular to be deeply affecting, inducing my own tears in simple moments where the camera lingered on her face and we read her emotions conveyed in the subtlest way imaginable.   Gyllenhaal is typically engaging, though his ex-con is possibly not as damaged by his life’s experiences as would be realistic.  Maguire is excellent – a warm, engaged father before his deployment, and a shell of a man pushed rapidly to breaking point after his brutal incarceration.

There are elements of the story that aren’t explored as deeply as they perhaps should/could be, and parts when you find yourself shouting at the characters “just say it!”.  But on the whole this is a terrific movie – powerful and, in a bigger picture sense of the repercussions of war, devastating – highly recommended.

The Secret in their Eyes

This Argentine film won the Best Foreign Film Oscar in 2010, and despite beating The Prophet and The White Ribbon, it’s a worthy winner, almost (but not quite) up there with The Lives of Others.   Ricardo Darin from Nine Queens (what fun that was!) stars as ex-prosecutor Benjamin Esposito, deeply affected by a rape and murder case 20 years prior, who wants to write a book about the case.  In doing so, unresolved questions in his mind cause him to reinvestigate the case, and brings him back into contact with his old colleague/boss and unrequited love interest, played by the luminous Soledad Villamil.

The director’s training on US crime show Law & Order is evident, but his ability to construct a narrative that is as much about love, loss and revenge as a pure police procedural, is the film’s strength.   He gets believable, engaging performances from all his characters (especially Esposito’s tragi-comic colleague Pablo Sandoval) and manages to inject the film with a sinister undertone that isn’t completely exposed until the final reel.

The Hedgehog (Le herisson)

I’ll admit, I saw the trailer and thought “I’m not seeing that”.  Saccharine!  Implausible!  Narratively predictable!  But by some miracle I was otherwise persuaded, and my open-mindedness was rewarded with a charming, beautifully performed piece that left me very moved.

The three central characters are so different from one another and from our usual protaganists (as a collective, at any rate) and each performance is real and believable – which is no mean feat, considering the story.  11-year old Paloma is a very bright, suicidally depressed voyeur of sorts, who films the lives of those around her, narrating a voiceover of insight and sometimes cutting brilliance.  Mme Michel is the concierge in her apartment building, a dowdy, charmless 50-something widow of simple habits who is blindsided by the attentions of a new tenant.  Mr Kakuro Ozu is a distinguished Japanese gentleman who introduces her to his world of Japanese cooking and with whom she shares a love of Tolstoy and Japanese cinema.  The lives of the three are convincingly entangled and it’s a delight to watch their burgeoning relationships.  Highly recommended.

Some Must-Sees – movies boys will like, and girls ought to

Some excellent choices for a Saturday Night In

Heat – absolutely Top 10.  De Niro and Pacino play cat and mouse/cop and robber, with a brilliant supporting cast including Val Kilmer (the only thing I’ve ever liked him in), Tom Sizemore, Diane Venora, Natalie Portman et al. It’s simply exhilarating – Michael Mann brings us the greatest bank robbery scene since Dog Day Afternoon, but not until he’s laid out a story so engaging and characters so multi-dimensional that I never wanted the film to end. So he made it 3 hours long! I’ve never been so ecstatic in all my movie-going life.

Goodfellas – one of Scorsese’s best. A gangster flick with the perfect voiceover; star turns from Ray Liotta, Robert De  Niro and a frightening Joe Pesci; the wonderful Lorraine Bracco (later playing the ultimate in-joke as Dr Melfi in The Sopranos) and cameos from Scorsese’s own mamma and papa. Also one of the longest and most accomplished tracking shots in film history. Right from the opening scene, it has you by the throat and you don’t even want it to let you go.

Children of Men – from a filmmaker’s point of view, this is just incredible. The photography is notable for its ability to drag you into the action and carry you along, and to elicit a “how the heck did they do that??” response on several occasions. Clive Owen carries the story of a dystopian future where no children have been born for several years, and the planet is clearly in a crisis of gradual extinction. Amazing, exciting, wonderful stuff.

The Insider – more Michael Mann. This time it’s Russell Crowe who stacks on the weight and goes grey to deliver a superlative performance as a tobacco scientist who turns whistleblower.  Al Pacino spars with him as the journalist who takes up his story.  It’s beautifully shot, scripted, acted and completely gripping to the end.

Casino – another Scorsese masterpiece, more De Niro and Pesci. But this time they share the screen with a luminous Sharon Stone, giving the performance of her career as the manipulative, drug-addled wife of a casino boss (De Niro) who’s trying to go straight, but can’t leave the gangster life behind. Another amazing soundtrack, too.

Carlito’s Way – Brian De Palma follows up Scarface with Pacino playing a different character with similar leanings. Sean Penn and Penelope Ann Miller provide excellent support to Pacino’s Carlito Brigante, an ex-con trying to go good, who gets entangled in the dubious business of his lawyer, friend and ex-colleagues. It’s violent and exciting, and romantic too.

Infernal Affairs – the original Hong Kong police thriller that Scorsese made into the Oscar-winning The Departed.  The original is better though – and stars the stunning Andy Lau and Tony Leung Chiu Wai as a cop undercover in a criminal gang, and a gangster who has infiltrated the police. Let the games begin.

(Needless to say this list could go on and on, but this will do for now.)

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