Lina Lamont

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

Archive for the tag “Tilda Swinton”

Hail, Caesar!

This review first published in the Sunday Star-Times, 6th March 2016

This latest caper by those magnificent Coen Brothers takes us back to the Golden Age of Hollywood, when “aquatic pictures” were a popular artform, and the studio star system made household names out of the forebears of today’s George Clooney, Scarlett Johansson and Channing Tatum.

In a familiar Coen plot, Hail, Caesar! revolves around the kidnapping of Clooney’s leading man, Baird Whitlock. (The Coens, who also write their own films, clearly love their botched crimes almost as much as naming their characters.) Whitlock is snatched from his trailer by an unlikely sect, but in typically Coenesque fashion, his unexpected response to his captors is more Stockholm Syndrome than moral outrage.

As ever, the film is superbly cast from its protagonist, Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), the studio fixer who must keep scandals out of the headlines, to the gossip columnists (Tilda Swinton, playing twins) who roam the manicured lawns at Capitol Pictures, sniffing out an exclusive. Johansson swims; Tatum dances (if we ever needed a successor to Gene Kelly, he’s it).

Throw in small but hilarious roles for Ralph Fiennes and Frances McDormand, and you almost have a sure-fire hit on your hands. “Would that it were so simple,” Fiennes opines, but truth be told, the Coens haven’t quite replicated the sheer brilliance of Fargo or the consistently gripping tone of their Oscar-winning No Country for Old Men.

What they do, however, is effortlessly evoke a bygone era from its set design down to its parlance, and entertain their modern-day audience in spades. Hail, Caesar! has bags of laughs and guileless charm. If you think it gets a bit verbose, you better blame the writers.

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A Bigger Splash

This review first published in the Sunday Star-Times, 6th March 2016

A remake of the 1969 French film La Piscine, four storming performances lie at the heart of what makes A Bigger Splash a riot of a summer art-house movie.

Tilda Swinton (Only Lovers Left Alive, Michael Clayton) is as effortless as ever in her portrayal of Marianne, a famed rockstar recovering from debilitating throat surgery whose Italian holiday is disrupted by the arrival of her erstwhile lover Harry (an utterly intoxicating Ralph Fiennes, loosened up like you’ve never seen him before) and his newly found daughter. As Marianne’s current young paramour, the hunky Matthias Schoenaerts, strives to retain his favoured position (Harry’s needling of the grown man he calls “the Kid” is sharply played), the tension is neatly ratcheted up as a battle for devotion and attention ensues. But as with many films boasting a French provenance, events rapidly turn even darker than anticipated.

As he did with I Am Love (also starring Swinton), Italian director Luca Guadagnino allows the audience to live vicariously in the world of the rich and famous, where lounging beside tiled swimming pools and dining al fresco is taken for granted by the four beautiful people whose emotional inner-wrangling delivers all of the narrative drama. He underscores their bourgeois malaise with a brilliant soundtrack (both orchestral and pop-cultural) and keeps the narrative mosing apace.

Expertly acted, the nuances in character development are superb – although Fiennes talks a mile a minute and prances around in the altogether (one central scene in which he takes centre stage is worth the ticket price alone), his drug-addled record producer also manages to provoke our sympathy. As the pouty daughter Harry has only just discovered, 50 Shades of Grey’s Dakota Johnson shows enormous promise, and Schoenaerts wears his character’s wounded past with admirable restraint.

Where I Am Love descended into melodrama at the end, A Bigger Splash just about manages to keep its head above water. It’s not remotely subtle but it certainly is a heap of debauched fun.

 

Trainwreck

Comedienne Amy Schumer’s star has been rising rapidly of late, and so it jolly well should. With her bitingly clever Comedy Central series and effortlessly entertaining chat show performances, the Saturday Night Live alumna ought to be collecting her keys any moment to the pantheon of Tina Feys and Amy Poehlers who are swiftly annihilating the maxim that “women can’t be funny”.

As evidence, Schumer’s own script for Trainwreck puts a strong female protagonist centre stage and allows her to exhibit all the bad behaviour that used to be the remit of men until two other talented, funny women broke the sexist mould with 2011’s Bridesmaids (in which co-writer Kristen Wiig also starred). Here, Amy (also the character’s name) is single, boozy, promiscuous and commitment-free. We know why, and so does she, since the opening scene introduces us to her monogamy-phobic father. And so Amy clings to the tropes of a carefree woman, clad in perpetually short skirts and high heels but the first to walk out the door after a roll in the hay. This is a world where it’s the men who talk about “making love” and aren’t scared to express their feelings, while Amy shuns every well-intentioned attempt at intimacy. We laugh along at her crass talk and her audacity, but not-very-deep-down we know she just needs the love of a good man to see her right.

Schumer is terrific at liberating her leading lady with one hand, simultaneously demolishing the despicable Hollywood tenet that girls must be skinny (her hems may be unnecessarily short but Schumer wears them like a boss), even if she seems to pull some narrative punches with the other. As a result, the second half suffers from moments of malaise before the emotional rollercoaster ascends again.

But the moments of truth (where couples speak like real-life, not rom-com nonsense) and the inclusion of type-crushing performances from an orange-tinted Tilda Swinton and an hilarious turn by basketball legend LeBron James, ensure this well-intentioned, warm-spirited comedy will secure Schumer’s immediate future.

Only Lovers Left Alive

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 27th April 2014

Having closed last year’s International Film Festival, audiences should be grateful for another chance to catch one of the most sumptuous, intoxicating and yes, possibly self-indulgent love stories of modern cinema. Under the pen and direction of indie darling Jim Jarmusch, this exceptionally romantic tale of two creatures of the night negotiating the travails of a long distance relationship is so much more than a “vampire movie”.

Wait, come back – Twilight this definitely ain’t. Rather, Jarmusch has penned an adult’s fantasy of (quite literally) eternal love which eschews fight scenes with werewolves and a nauseating threesome in order to cram in as many clever literary and cultural references as is possible in two hours. With a top-notch cast (ice queen Tilda Swinton thaws into an incredibly warm wife to Tom Hiddleston’s mopey musician Adam) and a witty, laugh-out-loud script (pretentious? Oui!), Lovers is like a delicious cinematic liqueur.

The titular lovers travel between Michigan and Morocco, lugging classic tomes and a history’s worth of musical instruments, her light to his dark in both costume and nature. They are the epitome of cool, languorous in their dealings with the world and one another in a way which makes viewing the film strangely relaxing. Even when Mia Wasikowska appears as the delightfully trouble-making sister, they all make being a vampire look such fun.

Swinton is typically excellent, but Hiddleston (best known as Loki from Thor) is simply glorious as the suicidal musician who despairs at how humanity behaves. Supported by amusing performances by John Hurt as Christopher Marlowe (his whinings about Shakespeare giving a clever slant to history as we know it) and Star Trek’s Anton Yelchin as a rock ‘n’ roller who attends to Adam’s every need, the small cast is a universal delight.

If anything, it’s all a bit too lovely to look at, and you wish the camera would stop panning for a moment so you can take in all the production detail. In-jokes abound, with the lovers effortless in their delivery of cutesy dialogue and loving bon mots. Some may find it meandering but for viewers with the patience for the scenic route (and some esoteric musical sequences), the rewards are considerable.

We Need To Talk About Kevin

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star Times, 26th February 2012

It’s a difficult enough task bringing a critically acclaimed, bestselling novel to the screen, but quite something else when the book in question is Lionel Shriver’s harrowing first-person narrative of a mother’s response to her teenage son’s role in a high school massacre.

As someone who rates the novel among her all-time top 10, I have been tracking the pre-production of this film adaptation for several years, so it is a relief to report director Lynne Ramsay has produced a superb, disturbing and utterly compelling film.

Don’t take the plot headline at face value. Unlike Gus Van Sant’s Elephant (which recreated a Columbine-like high school shooting from the protagonist’s eye-view), this story belongs to the mother. Eva Khatchadourian is brilliantly portrayed by cinema’s resident ice queen, Tilda Swinton, as the successful travel writer looks back over her life pre-child-bearing, then raising the recalcitrant Kevin, and latterly dealing with the aftermath of his efforts to get her attention.

Without casting judgement in any direction, the film tells little while showing everything, in myriad subtly placed details and particularly on the faces of its characters. Eva manages to look guilty in every frame, whether warily pregnant, or wearily dealing with a perpetually screaming baby, as it becomes apparent that Kevin is no compliant, loving child. Carrying the burden of her particular experience of motherhood, she wears paint stains on her hands like Lady Macbeth. It’s a crime that Swinton was not Oscar-nominated for her performance.

Juxtaposed with scenes of carefree, pre-parental irresponsibility, Swinton perfectly evokes Eva’s despair as her son rebukes all motherly advances, while her oblivious husband, Franklin (an odd casting choice in John C Reilly, who nonetheless acquits himself well), thinks he’s building the perfect nuclear (in more than one sense) family.

As the teenage Kevin, Ezra Miller is a standout, his relationship with Swinton convincingly disconcerting and powerful as he grows from a manipulative, belligerent, contrary little horror of a child. Like the book, however, the film doesn’t offer easy answers (it is missing the point to suggest Kevin is simply “born bad” like The Omen‘s Damien), and is instead a masterful retelling of a complex and challenging story. With relentless music and harsh sound design, the tense narrative creates a film that may sit with you for days after viewing.

The Ice-Queen cometh

I Am Love (Io sono l’amore)

I Am Love is a beautiful-looking film, with marvellous performances and an engaging story, that allows you to live vicariously the splendid life of a Milanese textile dynasty for two hours.

On myriad levels, it seems to steal themes and styles from some of the best films of the last half century.  The opening titles plunge you back to the classics of the 1940s and ’50s, and set the scene with terrific anticipation.  Much of the cinematography evokes the 1970s in its use of long shots as we find ourselves spying on our heroine as she stalks her young lover-to-be.   The art direction is particularly Visconti (interestingly, the source material for I Am Love is a Thomas Mann novel, just as Death in Venice was), and in the opening scenes there are shades of Todd Haynes’ Far From Heaven (and by extension, therefore, Douglas Sirk’s oeuvre), in which another talented, beautiful and considerably warmer redhead, Julianne Moore, plays a frustrated housewife who has an affair with the “help”.

There are touches of Gosford Park in the intricately observed meals, table settings and interior decoration (as well as the inter-class philandering).  The central love affair itself evokes Kristin Scott Thomas’ performance in Leaving (Partir) which also descends into melodrama and tragedy as the affair is revealed.

But above all, this film rests on two things: extravagant beauty of objects, food and people – and a phenomenal central performance by Tilda Swinton, as Emma.  Swinton often plays cold characters (the White Witch in the Narnia movies is an unintentional pun), but in I Am Love she shows real warmth, at least towards her children and her devoted and maternal maid, Ida.  Initially Emma is immaculate in appearance and conduct, befitting the wife of a textile mogul.  It is notable that she warms up (as does the film’s lighting and colour at the same instant) the very moment she samples a dish prepared by young chef Antonio.  They say the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach,  but in this instance it is Emma who falls in love with the man she’s hardly met, via a (sumptuously photographed) plate of prawns.  Before long she is making two-hour trips to Antonio’s house in San Remo, cutting off her lustrous hair, and rolling about meadows in the throes of sexual ecstasy.

The central romance, however, is the one thing that didn’t convince me.  Emma’s obsession with Antonio is perhaps understandable (though for me it stretched the justification for her eventual behaviour), but Antonio’s part is underwritten such that it’s not clear what attracts him to her.  As a result, I found the sex scenes (unusually!) neither exciting nor compelling, despite the full-frontal nudity and no-holds-barred close-ups.  To that end, once tragedy strikes and Emma’s world spirals out of control, she lost my sympathy or understanding.

I liken this film to the experience of eating at a very fine restaurant and gorging oneself on exquisite dishes, then overdoing it at the end of the night by having coffee and dessert.  They should have quit while they were ahead, and left us wanting more.

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