Lina Lamont

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

Archive for the tag “Stanley Tucci”

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.

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.

The Hunger Games

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star Times, 25th March 2012

When director Gary Ross was handed this latest young adult literary adaptation to turn into a blockbuster movie, he must have known the odds were in his favour. Eight years since his last directorial outing (racehorse story Seabiscuit), Ross not only co-wrote the script with the book’s author, Suzanne Collins, but has crafted an excellent rendition that should see its growing legion of fans deeply satisfied.

For those who haven’t read it, The Hunger Games delivers us from the swamp of angsty vampire teen fiction and throws its readers into a whole other sort of peril: a dystopian future in the North American country of Panem, where 12 districts labour all year to support the fortunate few who live in the Capitol, and whose punishment for past revolution results in the annual sacrifice of two dozen young people, who must fight to the death on reality TV.

District 12’s plucky young heroine is Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence, back hunting and skinning animals like she did in her Oscar-nominated performance in Winter’s Bone). With fellow “Tribute” Peeta, she enters a specially created arena where mere children must shoot arrows and throw spears, using their wits or perishing in gruesome ways. Meanwhile, in the real world (such as it isn’t), vibrant media personalities and the Tributes’ own support teams watch and commentate.

As always, Lawrence is terrific while Josh Hutcherson (The Kids Are All Right) is the perfect Peeta. Star-studded support includes Woody Harrelson and Donald Sutherland, with Stanley Tucci and Elizabeth Banks clearly having a whale of a time.

The story’s Orwellian conceit is ideal for cinematic interpretation, and it is exciting to see the rendering of the book’s extreme poverty versus opulence and over-stylised costuming. The dizzying hand-held camerawork is initially a bit overbearing, but certainly sets the discomforting scene.

Readers will know there are two more books in the series, and ought to leave the cinema hungry for a sequel.

Captain America: The First Avenger

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star Times, 31st July 2011

Yes, yes – another comic book movie.  But there’s a lot that’s good about this particular adaptation, not least the stunning production design of New York and London in the throes of World War II.  Capturing the old-school, comic book feel of Dick Tracy (but with a broader colour palette) and spot-on costuming, it’s a pleasure to watch a story situated in the real world and not on an alien planet in a galaxy far, far away.

As our lead: Chris Evans.  Despite already having a super-hero persona under his belt (Johnny Storm in The Fantastic Four), Evans gets to play Steve Rogers, a puny kid from Brooklyn who tries umpteen times to trick his way into the army.  (There seems to be a spot of Benjamin Button going on in the early scenes, with Evans’ head seamlessly attached to the body of a callow youth.)  Following a display of bravery and because of his strong moral code, Rogers is instead chosen for a military experiment that sees him undergo a mild bout of Hulkism and wind up America’s hero.

Evans is paired romantically with British actress Hayley Atwell, and the rest of the high calibre cast includes Brits playing Americans (Mamma Mia’s Dominic Cooper, looking more like Robert Downey Jr. than the Howard Stark we met in Iron Man 2), Americans playing Germans (the always enjoyable Stanley Tucci), and Australian Hugo “Matrix” Weaving as the evil Red Skull.  Into the mix are myriad familiar faces from TV’s Spooks, The Tudors and Gossip Girl.

Despite this international affair, let’s not forget that Captain America is undeniably a patriotic cartoon, borne of an era when the US of A set off to save us all from the Nazis.  And so too here, the baddies are consistent with history (even if the plot sets off on a slightly parallel path), and the Captain, his merry men, and his non-camouflage shield engage in the usual routine of fight scenes before leaving us hanging with an ending that might actually warrant the sequel it hints at.

A for not-quite-Awesome

Easy A

This latest self-referential, incisive, teenage rom-com boasts a star-studded case and zippy script, which is just as well.  Stanley Tucci (providing all the LOLs in the movie), Patricia Clarkson and Malcolm McDowell lend excellent support to Zombieland‘s Emma Stone whose huskily-voiced observations carry an otherwise fairly hollow story along at quite a pace.

Stone plays Olive, a supposedly mousey outcast at high school, who inadvertently concocts a plan to become “somebody” by letting people think she’s sleeping with half the school.  Part-Good Samaritan (Olive’s “conquests” are all no-hopers who pay her to go along with stories that will enhance their reputations, while tarnishing hers), Olive freely admits her own motivation at first is simply to get attention.  Even if it’s the wrong kind which might scupper her chances of being with good-natured, unquestionning Todd (“Gossip Girl”s Penn Badgley, playing, er, “Gossip Girl”s Dan Humphrey, complete with literary witticisms).

Stone/Olive is a vivacious redhead, not remotely mousey – so suspension of disbelief is crucial here.  Similarly, in some instances the cross-referencing to contemporary culture (an homage to John Hughes’ films, mention of Facebook, a fleeting comment about “Gossip Girl” – thankfully not by Penn Badgley himself) serves on the one hand to ground the film in a reality we can all appreciate, but also break down the 4th wall.  The script is zingy and there are plenty of hilarious moments, and Stone is utterly charming as our protaganist.  However, the story is propped up by hyperbolic caricatures of Christian fundamentalism (not clever or new, so simply not funny any more) and a slightly cringy subplot involving Lisa Kudrow’s guidance counsellor, played the same as every character Kudrow’s ever done.  There is never any tension between Olive and her kooky, supportive parents, her wise and witty teacher (welcome back Thomas Haden Church!) or hunky Todd.  So the enjoyment resides in the performances, which, as heralded above, are thankfully terrific.

The movie seems to strive for a place in the hallowed hall of fame that includes Pretty in Pink and the seminal Breakfast Club, but I doubt it will live long in people’s memories.  It is an enjoyable piece of fluff, however, and we can expect an onwards-and-upwards rise of Emma Stone’s fame.  Get her while she’s hot.

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