Lina Lamont

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

Archive for the tag “Shia LaBeouf”

Fury

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 26th October 2014

Brad Pitt plays it serious with a small band of brothers comprising an equally good Shia LeBeouf and a gradually maturing Logan Lerman (The Perks of Being a Wallflower) as American soldiers fighting the Nazis as WWII draws to an end. It’s one of those awful situations where the audience knows it’ll all be over in months but for the tank platoon it’s just another day, another German town to be brought to its knees.

As hearts harden and eyes grow deader by the day, the troops play out quite fascinating tactical manoeuvres, accompanied by a terrific soundtrack. Without labouring the characters’ backstories, we’re given a real sense of what war does to a man. As Pitt’s Sergeant puts it: “Ideals are peaceful, history is violent”, and the brutal scenarios of war are sobering in their pragmatism – the R16 is earned but there’s no need for gratuitous violence in this action movie.

Director David Ayer wrote the Oscar-winning Training Day so he knows all about men with callused souls driving around all day from one claustrophobic set-piece to the next. One particularly tense scene expertly ties your stomach in knots, while the final showdown, although predictable, is nothing short of gripping.

Nymphomaniac

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, March 2014

Four hours of Lars von Trier may not be everyone’s cup of tea, particularly when you realise this is a two-part film about a middle-aged woman recounting her Life as a Sexual Being. With candid narration and eye-popping pictures. In just about every shade of grey.

So, having adored the melodrama of Melancholia but known better than to put myself through the female genital mutilation of Antichrist, I settled with girded loins into the first part of Nymphomaniac and was rapidly drawn in to a fascinating, non-judgemental, sometimes bizarre, tale of compulsion.

Von Trier’s leading lady Charlotte Gainsbourg is as typically nonchalant as she regales a complete stranger (Stellan Skarsgard) with stories about her sexual coming-of-age. The narrative nips back and forth between Skarsgard’s deadpan analogies with fly fishing (hilarious and insightful moments which bring welcome relief) and the dramatization of young Joe (a courageous Stacy Martin in her first screen role) losing her virginity to Shia LaBeouf before embarking on a life where variety is most definitely the spice.

Why would you want to sit through four hours of this? I’m at a bit of a loss to explain. But contrary to my apprehensions, this is von Trier at this best – languid photography, surprising (and surprisingly transporting) bursts of death metal music, artful imagery and fascinatingly meta dialogue. Gainsbourg (looking more like her mother, Jane Birkin, with every film) is excellent, lending crucial credibility to what might otherwise be dismissed as almost-porn. Interestingly, the film isn’t as graphic as one might expect, although von Trier entices the audience into believing we’re seeing actors perform for real. (We’re not – the closing credits made sure to preserve the modesty of the “professional actors” in the film.) But there is still plenty of make your eyes bulge.

Supporting the core cast are Christian Slater, with an enchanting accent utterly appropriate for a European film, and Jamie Bell as a benevolent sadist. Uma Thurman steals her scene in an excerpt which is simultaneously squirm-inducing and laugh-out-loud.

Though the tone darkens in the second part, the dialogue is still replete with fascinating philosophical and historical insights, and when a outlandish ménage à trois segues into a discussion on political correctness, it’s clear that von Trier’s latest delivers more than just a one night stand.

The Company You Keep

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 28th April 2013

Well, you can’t say that a Robert Redford-directed film based on a true life radical protest group in the American 1970s starring Julie Christie, Shia LaBeouf and Redford himself doesn’t sound promising. The question is whether a dream cast and a wordy who-really-dunnit story can deliver on its promises. Disappointingly, it doesn’t quite.

Redford casts himself as the lawyer whose sole charge of an adored young daughter is jeopardised when he gets caught up in a decades-old man hunt. In the thirty years since a bank robbery went wrong, the now senior members of a radical cell have dispersed across the country. When one gives herself up, Terrence Howard’s generically intrepid FBI agent gets on the case, and lawyer Jim Grant starts his own investigation.

Despite the film almost drowning under the weight of its star power (count the Oscar nominees on the poster! – proof that clearly when Redford calls, you answer), the performances are mostly solid, even if the likes of Stanley Tucci, Sam Elliott and Nick Nolte are underused and Julie Christie comes across as trying too hard. While hardly in their Quartet years just yet, this still feels like an opportunity to get the band back together, with Brit Marling (Arbitrage) and LaBeouf’s contemporary chemistry thrown in to coax the younger audience. Redford should really have cast someone else in his lead role, as much because he appears tired and unconvincing as because the maths of everyone’s ages distractingly doesn’t add up.

It is LaBeouf’s tenacious, plucky young reporter who keeps things moving in this distinctly old-school narrative of drawn-out revelations which nonetheless manages to be engaging from start to end. So I suppose I should say good old Redford, really, for championing the stars of yesteryear in a gritty, well-written if poorly-paced drama.

Transformers: Dark of the Moon

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star Times, 3rd July 2011

No wonder Neil Armstrong avoids giving interviews.  Apparently when he made his famously small step over 40 years ago, he and his fellow astronauts secretly nipped behind a space boulder and uncovered a crashed alien spaceship.  Naturally, they were sworn to secrecy, so this is the first you’re hearing about it.

Michael Bay, atoning for the Transformers sequel that drew derision from fans and critics after the terrific first film, decided to try harder with his third outing of the franchise, and threw in a bit of fictional history to give it weight.  He has also swapped mega-hottie Megan Fox for English rose Rosie Huntington-Whitely, a Victoria’s Secret model making her cinematic debut.  Clearly Bay knows what’s important in casting – he is, after all, the maestro of bright lights and booty shots  (“She’s the one” pines boyfriend Sam).  So we are treated to a lot of tanned flesh and shiny cars, some of which transform into the creatures at the heart of this movie.

The Autobots are once again saving the world from the Decepticons, blah blah, but what makes this an improvement on the last film is having quality actors like John Malkovich and Frances McDormand (Oscar winner for Fargo) team up with the usual suspects (Shia LaBeouf is cute, but this is hardly a career best), amidst some truly spectacular set-pieces.  If nothing else, Bay knows how to blow things up, and the frenetic photography of mind-bending mechanical contortions is exhilarating at times, with Decepticon Shockwave providing genuine thrills as the city of Chicago is literally torn apart.

The script is typically bland, serving purely as a link between set-pieces, and the film is overlong – but with scenes like the collapsing sky-scraper and the fearless base-jumping of our action heroes, it’s a ride worth taking.

Spending ev’ry dime

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps

Among this film’s many incomprehensible clichés dressed up as witty truisms, Gordon Gekko says (and I’m paraphrasing – because frankly this was so incomprehensible and inherently unwitty, I have to break it down for you) – “Money is a bitch of a woman – she watches you sleeping, with one eye open, and you have to give her the attention she wants otherwise one day you’ll wake up and she’ll be gone”.

Huh?

Director Oliver Stone’s original Wall Street starred an as-yet unsullied and unlaughable Charlie Sheen as a young trader who makes millions, lives the high life, gets a conscience, and brings down the big guy (Michael Douglas).  Despite its mid-80s look ‘n’ feel, it’s still watchable and enjoyable in 2010, if only for the sake of living vicariously the lives of the disgustingly rich and Machiavellian for two hours.  And then shaking off the mucky feeling one gets from reading trashy celebrity magazines and coveting material possessions one doesn’t need.  Well, that’s just me.

Imagine my excitement when the trailer screened earlier this year: a haggard Gordon Gekko being released from eight years in prison – the warder details the belongings he went in with – a gold watch; a money clip with no money; a mobile phone… and with a clunk, the classic retro “brick” is placed on the counter.  Gekko walks out with fellow releasees, sees a limo drive up, goes to climb in – and is pipped at the post by a young African American in hip-hop street gear.  Gordon’s face says it all – what is this world he’s returning to?

It turns out his world is one of “frugal” living in a penthouse apartment overlooking Manhattan, a nonexistent relationship with his daughter Winnie (latest English rose, Carey Mulligan, accent wavering), and the attentions of Winnie’s fiancé, Wall Street trader Jake (the dashing Shia LaBeouf, doing his best with mature material but still in my view far too young and unconvincing for the role).  Gordon wants back in Winnie’s life; Jake wants in on Gordon’s expertise.

Apparently Oliver Stone and his crew wrote this film as the 2008 GFC (Global Financial Crisis – keep up now) shattered the jaw of the worldwide banking industry.  I thought this was ingenious – bring back Gordon Gekko as a harbinger of doom, a Sybil that (of course) everyone ignores.  Watch it all go up in smoke.

But instead the film is a mish-mash of complicated (and dull) dialogue about stocks and trades and hedgefunds or something, made “simple” for us non-bankers by use of a split-screen (in case we can’t keep up with who the characters are, and need to be shown who Jake is on the phone to) and fancy computer imagery of fusion energy and… um, they lost me there.  Not that I cared.  What about Jake and Winnie?!  Will she mind he’s been secretly meeting her dad?  Has Gordon’s leopard really changed his spots?  What’s weird about Shia’s hairline??

Stone obviously pulled in a good cast – we get cameos from Susan Sarandon, Frank Langella, and the return of Sylvia Miles as the realtor who lets Jake his apartment (having rented to Charlie Sheen back in 1987).  Josh Brolin, doing well with a 2-dimensional character and boring dialogue, plays the baddy.  Probably one of the most exciting moments (which says it all) was Sheen’s Bud Fox turning up at a fundraiser with two girlfriends.  Nice to see art imitating life.

While I expect so much from Oliver Stone, having been a big fan of JFK, Platoon and even Natural Born Killers (well, it was very of its time), this film disappointed on many levels.  It is flabby and overlong, completely unexciting, and there is nothing at stake for anyone (some of the father-daughter scenes bordered on emotional, but were then dampened by subsequent goings-on).  The real-life chemistry of Mulligan and LaBeouf had some beautiful moments, but couldn’t save the heartlessness of the story.  Probably my greatest annoyance is reserved for the appallingly inappropriate score – a combination of lacklustre David Byrne and Brian Eno songs, and composer Craig Armstrong rehashing his music from 1999’s Plunkett & Macleane (“original music”, my eye).  Never has a movie about stocks and bonds had greater need of some Hans Zimmer to tell us when the stakes are high and lives are in peril.

Incredibly, the film opened today in the States as well as here in NZ (wow! I feel unusually on the ball).  Just in time, then, for me to manage people’s expectations.  I can’t predict how much this will make worldwide, but I suggest Stone sleeps with one eye open to ensure his Money doesn’t walk out in the middle of the night.

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