Lina Lamont

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

Archive for the tag “Tom Hardy”

Legend

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, October 2015

They say if you can remember the 1960s, you weren’t there. But for those who grew up anywhere near the East End of London, the indelible impression cast by the Kray twins will never fade, and sixty years on the folklore around these most vicious of sharply-suited gangsters provides an addictive hit of cinematic adrenalin.

Tom Hardy was paid two salaries for his work on the film – unusual practice in the industry but he certainly earns every penny. Far from simply slicking his hair a different way, Hardy’s performances as Reggie (deceptively sweet) and Ronnie (undeniably psychopathic) are so distinct, he must have worked tirelessly to ensure he was employing the correct gait, vocal lilt and mannerisms for each take.

Legend acts as a bi-biopic, charting the brothers’ ascent through the criminal underworld from the point-of-view of Reggie’s wife, Frances (Emily Browning from Sucker Punch) whose voiceover is at times slightly vapid yet necessary to tell the tale. Everyone in the British acting fraternity contributes a cameo, including Christopher Eccleston and a reconstituted Paul Bettany as real-life adversaries of the Krays, though the most surprising face is that of Taron Egerton, (Eggsy from Kingsman), who plays Ronnie’s young gay lover with aplomb.

Aesthetically, the film is a delight to behold – look past the blood splatters to the period-perfect wallpaper and tea cups; listen through the crunch of fist on skull to the chirpy soundtrack which accompanies the Krays’ tit-for-tat against their foes. In narrative, Legend evokes a very British Goodfellas, with Ronnie the disturbingly erratic Joe Pesci and Reggie the smoothly sinister Ray Liotta. Similarly, in both movies the men head home to mum’s when things go awry, here to be offered cake and a cup of tea to salve their ills.

Director Brian Helgeland is also an accomplished screenwriter (Mystic River, LA Confidential) who has adapted John Pearson’s book “The Profession of Violence” into a dazzling two hours of outrageous behaviour and intoxicating savagery. We may be half a century on, but it’s clear this stuff never gets old.

The Drop

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 23rd November 2014

Right from the opening voiceover, which explains the film’s central premise, The Drop promises all the tropes of a solid crime drama. The tale of an unassuming bartender who gets caught up a gangland robbery is based on a short story by Mystic River’s author Dennis Lehane, and stars James “Soprano” Gandolfini in his last film role. Dragon Tattoo’s original femme fatale, Noomi Rapace, makes a convincing move from Sweden to the grim wintry suburbs of New York. There’s even a cameo by James Frecheville, the ingénue who was at the centre of superb Australian crime movie Animal Kingdom.

The leader of the pack, however, seals the “Should I watch it?” deal. Brit Tom Hardy (Locke, Inception, Lawless) has been honing his craft for 14 years, and has recently seen his stock soar. As gentle Bob Saginowski his squeaky-voiced Brooklyn accent is spot-on, his demeanour credibly engaging as the wide-eyed innocent who gives away free drinks to keep peace with the neighbourhood’s unsavoury types. Even the adage “Never work with children or animals” can be ignored if you’re Hardy, who carries a chocolate brown boxer pup through much of the movie, melting hearts on and off-screen.

Belgian director Michaël R. Roskam has done well with only his second feature film, taking an old-school premise that is refreshingly drug-free for a contemporary crime story (although the thematic conventions of money and Catholicism inevitably recur) and crafting a crisply edited tale from sharp casting and great photography. Bolstering the commendable performances, Roskam has taken the opportunity to cast his compatriot Matthias Schoenarts (the pair broke out with Bullhead) as a subtly shifty villain, Schoenarts’ native accent effectively banished.

Occasionally the characters slip into (albeit amusing) Tarantinian unlikeliness as thugs correct each other’s geographical ignorance, and the film never quite reaches the ecstatic heights of its ancestor Goodfellas or even The Town. But mainly thanks to Hardy’s intensity and tireless commitment, The Drop still fulfils its promise.

The Dark Knight Rises

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star Times, 22nd July 2012

This final in the trilogy of deeper, darker Batman films places a considerable weight of expectation on the shoulders of director Christopher Nolan.

It was he who brought us the gravelly voiced Christian Bale and one of the first comic book “origin” stories with the excellent Batman Begins, reinvigorating a franchise that had started joyously with Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson in the 1980s, but had then gone downhill in its sequels. By 2005, the world was clearly ready for a grittier side to this very self-made superhero (don’t forget, Bruce Wayne builds his muscle and relies on gadgets, borne out of anger, not scientific mishap). Three years later, it was Nolan who staged one of cinema’s greatest bank robbery scenes and garnered Heath Ledger his posthumous Oscar in The Dark Knight.

So here we are – hotly anticipated, The Dark Knight Rises’ tagline alleges “The Legend Ends” – and it’d better end good.

Nolan is a great storyteller, and the narrative gets under way quickly. Eight years after Batman was falsely accused of killing district attorney Harvey Dent and his beloved Rachel was killed, we find Wayne holed up in his mansion, a recluse still tended to by the patient butler Alfred (Michael Caine), but physically the worse for wear and clearly not over his grief. The city which once loved Batman now carries on without need of him, as prisoners are locked up under a law enacted in Dent’s name. Clearly, any intended rise for our sallow-faced billionaire is going to be steep.

It takes a bat to catch a thief, as Wayne’s interest is piqued by Anne Hathaway’s cat burglar. Hathaway is superb, not just kick-boxing in six-inch gold heels, but casting out witty lines and welling up in tears with equal skill. The black-suited duo find themselves embroiled in the evil machinations of Bane (Tom Hardy), a terrorist with a bone to pick against Gotham, and one of the best, most frightening baddy voices since Darth Vader. If Hardy is unrecognisable in his Hannibalesque mask, it’s as much because he has bulked up and is clearly photographed to look gigantic.

One small gripe is Nolan’s reuse of – count ’em – five core actors from Inception. While it can be charming when directors recast their favourite talent in other films (Wes Anderson makes no bones about it, yet people can’t seem to get enough of Bill Murray and Owen Wilson), so much of the tone of this film evokes Inception that seeing Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard, Hardy and Caine at times distracts from what ought to be a Batman story. Similarly, the predominantly daytime shots of Gotham City make it look like any big American city, and less the comic-book land where a police commissioner might summon a superhero by shining a bat silhouette into the sky. When the roads don’t fold up into the sky, it’s almost disappointing. But not quite. In every other way the film is exhilarating, with a relentlessly exciting soundtrack and some sensational set-pieces, with fantastic police chases and impressive, explosive action.

 

While Bale is consistently good, the standout performances are Hathaway’s cat lady and Gordon-Levitt’s empathic policeman. Neither steals the show quite like Ledger did, but they bring energy and, remarkably, emotional meaning to Wayne’s life, and a superb movie-going experience to ours

No rest for the over-stimulated

Well, it’s only Saturday afternoon, but it’s been a pretty interesting weekend already, so there’s time for a quick post.

Call me lacking in spontaneity, but today began as the previous Cannes mornings, with a pre-7am wake-up, coffee and a pastry for breakfast, then a speedy march along the waterfront to La Croisette, to climb the red stairs you’ve heard so much about. Incidentally, needless to say I am in flat shoes all day, but I learned that only heels are allowed on the tapis rouge for the evening premieres. One chap (an executive producer of Almodovar’s film, no less) got turned away last year because his shoes weren’t shiny enough! And when they say black tie, they mean dickie bow, not Reservoir Dogs; apparently there is a little man selling them for €20 at the edge of the carpet, where pressure dictates you won’t argue about the rip-off. I am thinking of setting up a shoe-shine stall next to him.

Anyway, thanks to the blue pass I made it into a screening of John Hillcoat’s (The Proposition) latest from the pen of Nick Cave, Lawless. There is plenty that’s real nice about this Prohibition-era story of three outlaw brothers doin’ a lot of bootleggin’ and killin’. Tom Hardy and Shia Laboeuf play the faces we recognise, with Jessica Chastain (sheesh, isn’t that woman getting tired yet??) and Mia Wasikowska as the womenfolk. Throw in some Gary Oldman and a terrifically creepy Guy Pearce as baddies (like, actual baddies, not the good-baddies that the brothers are) and you got y’self quite a cast there. It is actually potentially one of the film’s downfalls, so distracted are we by the star-spotting and comparisons with roles they’ve done before. That said, all are excellent, and though the story is a fairly standard and unsurprising Western tale, and Cave’s script is full of obvious cues (“You better be back here by eleven.” “Have I ever let you down?”…) it is well-told and engaging. Incredibly violent and downright gruesome (think Ryan Gosling in a lift and show that sort of thing several times over). But I liked it, and despite its lack of innovation, I think non-Cannes audiences will, too.

All of the above turned up for the press conference immediately after, all long hair and beards (the men), but I didn’t catch any startling insights, except Nick Cave argued with a journalist about its not being a western. Hmm, clinically I rather think it is, Nick. Anyway, nice to see people make the effort to come promote their film at Cannes! Speaking of which: last night there was a screening of the newly restored Once Upon a Time in America and someone I spoke to was sitting along the row from Robert De Niro, Ennio Morricone and Wes Anderson! You don’t get that down at Sylvia Park.

After a spot of lunch with two friends of a UK-based friend, the blue pass really proved its worth as I was herded past a long expectant queue into Alexandre Desplat’s music lecture. As I previously mentioned, Desplat (pronounced Dez-plat, we were told) is all over the soundtracks in this Cannes line-up. Instead of discussing his own oeuvre, however, he humbly talked us through his favourite examples of film music, showing clips from Chinatown, La Peau Douce, Cape Fear, and even Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, among others. I didn’t realise it would be in French and didn’t grab any earphones for interpretation, but concentrated hard and got most (well, enough) of it. He then took questions in French and English, but my waving hand was overlooked by the mediator. Not to worry. Someone French had quite possibly already made my point for me, I couldn’t be sure.

After an early dinner I will try to see Thomas Vinterburg’s The Hunt, mainly for Mads Mikkelsen, and then that will do for Saturday night unless I want to stick around for Brandon Cronenberg’s Antiviral (gosh, doesn’t sound like he’s at all influenced by his father’s work, does it?). Otherwise, we will be doing it all again tomorrow, anyway.

This Means War

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star Times, 19th February 2012

Two CIA agents – best mates on and off the field – fall for the same girl and then fight over her.  Shaking hands on a gentlemen’s agreement (“no hanky panky”), the spies swiftly stoop to using the professional resources at their disposal to track their prey and eliminate the competition.

Despite initial misgivings about how Reese Witherspoon’s lovely Lauren could justify having two guys on the go at once, and my doubt that both men could possibly be convincingly attractive, This Means War rapidly caught, and suspended, my disbelief.  Chris Pine’s suave F.D.R is perfectly balanced by the naïve, British sweetness of Tom Hardy’s Tuck – and Witherspoon simply looks stunning in every scene, bringing back the slightly goofy girl from Legally Blonde without rendering her a simpering idiot.

Director McG (taking the one-name celebrity thing a little too far, methinks) cut his teeth on the Charlie’s Angels movies, evident in the respect shown for his female lead, and his casting of brilliant comedienne Chelsea Handler as the sassy best friend (hilariously confused for Witherspoon’s mother by a gun-toting baddie).  It’s the best bit of silliness we’ve seen in a long time, and utterly enjoyable escapism.  If only online dating really was this rewarding.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star Times, 15th January 2012

A long time ago, in a country on the other side of the world, Alec Guinness appeared in his seminal television performance as George Smiley, a taciturn, inscrutable secret agent on a mission to dig out a Soviet mole. The BBC series screened over seven weeks in 1979, one of the first instances of “appointment viewing” for a British public that was enthralled by the hunt: which of the four suspected MI6 spies was the traitor?

It has taken three decades for John le Carre’s source novel to earn a big-screen adaptation, but it comes with a high-calibre cast under the steady hand of Swedish director Tomas Alfredson (well- regarded for his arthouse vampire flick Let the Right One In, and here bringing to bear all of his expertise in creating dark action in the thick of a tense, brooding atmosphere).

Gary Oldman takes on Guinness’s legendary role, eschewing the wild-eyed craziness of much of his career and here capturing Smiley’s quiet man perfectly. By saying less and seeing more, Smiley is the perfect spy sent to catch a spy. Oldman sports his trademark 70s spectacles and tan overcoat, shrugging off aspersions cast about his good name, while rising above the rumours of his wife’s infidelities. As the characters pace about the brown and orange set design of the era, the British secret service has none of the sheen of contemporary shows such as Spooks. With no cellphones to trace or DNA samples to test, old-fashioned spy-work is all about using the little grey cells and hard-won intelligence.

And a modern audience, particularly one which doesn’t recall the TV series, will need every little grey cell in order to keep up with this story. Condensed appropriately and successfully into a little over two hours, one must listen carefully to everything said by Tom Hardy, Colin Firth, Toby Jones, Kathy Burke and the many other excellent actors who work with and against Smiley in his pursuit of the mole. It’s refreshing to be back in a Cold War, pre-Islamic terrorist world, though this change in mindset may prove challenging for some viewers. Often told in flashback, many of the set pieces are gripping, accompanied by an edgy, agitated soundtrack. It is almost a relief when we see the spooks at play during their work Christmas party, proving they are as real and fallible as us civilians.

Tinker Tailor is a smart film about spies and spying that is spellbinding and rewarding.

Don’t dream it’s over

Thoughts on Inception

(Spoiler alert – though frankly if you haven’t seen it by now, you’re presumably not going to)

If you haven’t seen Inception yet, just go.  Trust me.  Especially if you don’t go to the cinema regularly – hire a babysitter, get decent seats, and make sure you go to the bathroom beforehand.  And stop reading now – with this film, the less you know in advance, very much the better.

SO.  I saw the trailer months and months ago and I think I even did my involuntary quick-hand-clap-of-excitement the minute it said “From Christopher Nolan”, as Hans Zimmer’s wonderful bass soundtrack pounded my brain.  Here’s another example: Anyway, there were shots of cliff-edge cities crumbling into the sea, of Parisian cityscapes folding onto themselves, of backdrops exploding in slow motion while the characters sat, unscathed and oblivious, in the foreground.  Leonardo getting serious.  Joseph doing Matrix-style moves down a corridor.  That lovely Marion Cotillard from La Vie En Rose.  Awesome and exciting.

Months, and a whole heap of hype, later – Inception is so good I’ve seen it twice.  Not that I didn’t understand it the first time – remarkably (for me), I followed the story and its many, many layers and it totally clicked.  But the second viewing enabled me to capture every nuance, appreciate every line, as well as re-enjoy some of the more satisfying performances (Tom Hardy in the bar in Mombasa boasts some of the most natural acting I’ve seen in a long time; Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s acrobatics in the hotel have me in thrall every time).

For me, Inception‘s beauty is all about the concept.  Just as A Nightmare on Elm Street‘s brilliance lay in the fact we all have to fall asleep at some stage, Inception riffs on the various elements of the dream state – something every audience member can identify with (regardless of whether they might question the science of some of the assertions).  It’s true – dreams seem real when we’re in them, and it’s only when we wake up that we realise something was in fact strange.  Sure enough – the action in our dreams feels like it last hours when in reality we’re only asleep for minutes.  The film uses the mystery of our subconscious to great effect – poignantly in the notion that our bugbears will hijack our happiness or good intentions, and ingeniously when the people populating our dream treat us suspiciously the moment we (in the dream) sense that things aren’t quite as they should be.

The very notion of being able to enter someone’s dream, share that dream with others and communicate with them within the dream in full knowledge that it’s only a dream, is frankly mind-blowing.  Further concepts of pain and death within dreams have a basis in our existing experience (that if you die in a dream, you wake up in reality – but if you’re injured in a dream, your brain feels the pain just as intensely as if it were real, since the brain reads pain on an emotional level).

One key element is of course the dream-within-a-dream motif.  The fact that this is stretched further into not just a third, but a fourth sub-dream, makes this all the more fascinating.  On first viewing, I must admit to losing interest in the 4th level towards the end – the action in the snow scenes, necessarily slowed down to allow us to watch the progress within the other three dream levels, is purely perfunctory.  As, appropriately, is the central plot – Cillian Murphy has to change his mind, for himself (not suggested by others), and thus change the course of his future.  Considering the method by which this is achieved has to be so complex, it’s entirely right that the quest is straightforward.  But the other three levels are brilliant, and I gained great pleasure from my second viewing in terms of tracking the characters’ progress in each mini adventure.

Viewers will be divided over Leonardo DiCaprio’s role and performance, but I like him.  I heard a veteran screenwriter say recently that the most important thing is that we (the audience) connect and empathise with the protagonist.   Of course, we know this to be true, and I think this was well achieved over the course of the film’s two and a half hours.  Leonardo’s Dom Cobb can’t return to the US to see his children because of a slowly-revealed criminal charge.  In itself that’s not so interesting.  But Cobb is wanted for the murder of his wife Mal (the lovely Cotillard) who threw herself to her death because she believed she was still dreaming – and as we all know, if you die in a dream, you wake up.  The fact that Cobb carries the guilt of effectively leading her to that place where she could no longer discern dreaming from reality, is compelling and horrific.  We may bear him no ill-will for it, but we still want to see him set her, and himself, free.  The love story in the film is frequently beautiful in its rendering, and Cobb’s unrealistic idealism of his marriage ultimately redeemed by his admission that he can no longer see Mal with all her faults and complexities that made her real to him – hence his ability, finally, to let her go so he can return to reality and move on with his life.

I enjoyed some of the in-jokes (doubtless there are many I did not pick up).  Marion Cotillard is best known for her Oscar-winning role as Edith Piaf in La Vie en Rose, and the “wake-up” trigger song in Inception is Piaf’s “Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien”.  It’s also nice when a director re-uses favourite cast members: Cillian Murphy (from Batman Begins and The Dark Knight) and of course Michael Caine (from the same).  He used Carrie-Anne Moss in Memento just after she had shot to stardom in The Matrix, echoes of which abound in this film.

Once again, Nolan has created a film that plays with memory (as in Memento) and riffs on perception (Insomnia and The Prestige), tying in spectacular special effects (many of which were done old-school, that is to say with specially constructed moving sets, rather than as CGI) with a meaningful, universally-accessible story and some entertaining performances.  The set-pieces are breathtaking in their execution (I could watch Joseph Gordon-Levitt leaping and floating around that hotel for hours), and the concept is thought-provoking and compelling.  Even after 148 minutes I didn’t want to wake up.

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