Monday, February 27, 2012

Later #63 a movie: 'Safe House'

Saw the movie ‘Safe House,’ a spy thriller based around Denzel Washington's character, Tobin Frost, a rogue CIA agent with a file to sell to the highest bidder and people on all sides trying to get to that file and to him. Most of the action takes place in Cape Town, South Africa. Former Agent Frost seems to be cornered after a chase sequence, when he spots the US Consulate and decides to turn himself in, with the audience not being quite sure whether this was intended or an accident of his situation. A bit of good ol’ US illegal torture was programmed for the treacherous Frost, so instead of bringing him back to the US, he was taken to the local CIA ‘safe house.’ There, we are introduced to Ryan Reynolds as Agent Weston, who is the safe house housekeeper and while ambitious, has never seen any real spy action, until now that is. The ‘baddies’ find the not-so-safe house, and from there we follow Frost, Weston and Co around South Africa.
Frankly, there is little that is original or surprising in this story. The US agents are cliché. There are armies of expendable bad guys fighting and shooting in the townships, streets and freeways, to ensure that our gun toting, car-chasing stars have something to aim at and run from. The film makers waste the opportunity of doing anything remotely meaningful with the relationship between Agent Weston and his (cliché) horny French girlfriend played by Nora Arnezeder. I guess there wasn’t time, although plenty would have been available if the car chases and running scenes were either shorter or less numerous.
A somewhat interesting rapport develops between former Agent Frost and Agent Weston that makes you wonder who the good and bad guys really are, but otherwise the movie fails to engage. If you like action, wait for the DVD. If you don’t, then pass. 3/10.

Later #62 a movie: 'My Week with Marilyn'

Saw the movie ‘My Week with Marilyn.’ The story follows one week in 1956 during the making of the British movie The Prince and the Showgirl, starring Monroe, played by Michelle Williams, and Sir Laurence Olivier played by Kenneth Branagh. 'My Week with Marilyn' is about the relationship formed between the third assistant director and complete film industry unknown, Colin Clark, with Monroe at the height of her powers. Michelle Williams lights up the screen enchanting everyone around her and perfectly projecting that mega-star power – when Monroe was able to be present, that is.

We also get to see a darker side of Monroe’s life, a woman who knew sadness intimately, but neither her father nor enduring love. Monroe found drama just getting out of bed and onto a film set, in part due to her wandering, dreamy mind, but just as much due to drug-induced mood controlling perpetrated by Monroe’s minders.

The actors playing the actors in the making of this movie are astounding. You easily forget that it was Branagh playing Olivier or Judi Dench playing Sybil Thorndike and not a reincarnation of the old actors themselves. I enjoyed the way that you tracked the power Monroe gradually exerts over her much more qualified and doubting acting cast, moving Olivier to finally concede that Monroe is a great actor and later catapulting him to a new level of fame thanks to her influence.

The other strength of this production is the precise period styling, so authentic when the lads from Eton College rush out in top hats to greet Monroe visiting with one of their alumnus, Colin Clark; the wondrous garden scenes full of lush colour and soft English country dappled light; and the library at Windsor Castle where you could easily believe you were smelling the musty old books and da Vinci lithographs filling your screen. Whether telling the whole truth or otherwise, this film captures a very special mood. 8/10

PS. Michelle Williams was a far better pick for an Oscar than Meryl Streep, although Berenice Bejo in The Artist was better than both!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Later #61 a movie: 'Any Questions for Ben'

Saw the movie 'Any Questions for Ben,' set in Melbourne about the life of a young marketing executive (Josh Lawson as Ben) seeking meaning in a life lived in the fast lane of launches, parties and hanging out with the beautiful people. Ben is admired for his financial success and public recognition, but his world takes a turn during a high school career night.  He and several other former students are invited to talk about their career successes, but when Ben hears the presentation given by his alumni Alex (Rachel Taylor), a lawyer working for the United Nations, Ben questions the worth of his contribution to life.
The outcome is predictable when you assess the relative value to society of a marketing executive specializing in rebranding and a lawyer working for human rights in disadvantaged countries for the United Nations. However Ben's journey while he seeks answers about his contribution - and understanding his feelings towards Alex - is littered with inappropriate role models, meaning he cannot easily get the advice he keeps seeking, although you will love his mentor, the outrageous 'Sam Z.'

This is a fun movie and although billed as a comedy, it is better described as a light drama with plenty of romance. It is worth seeing for sure, and stay till the very end if you want a good laugh. 6/10.

Later #60 a movie: 'Shame'

Saw the movie, 'Shame,' depicting the lifestyles of brother and sister living in Manhattan in a seedy, bleak, emotionless world. They appear to come from a past that defines a relationship which is both intimate and tumultuous although on either count, revealing a maligned upbringing. For the person with extreme needs, NY is the place where every carnal, amoral pleasure is on offer and these are served up just as they might be experienced, with few atmospheric effects. This is likely to be the only world able to support personalities like Brandon and Cassie, although maybe even that is uncertain.

There are long periods of silence, porn and nudity that could shock you with its aggression. Alternatively you may find this tame. Likewise you may not be surprised by the lifestyles of insiders living on the make. Make what you will of this surprising depiction of life in the big city.
This movie does brilliantly presenting plot and sub plot without the commentary often given to interpret what you see: challengingly, the audience needs to work out most of the meaning and that means another long post-movie debriefing session with your movie watching buddy. 8/10.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Later #59 a movie: 'The Artist'

Saw the movie 'The Artist,' the French made silent film that's taken the movie world by storm. George Valentin, the suave and confident star of silent movies during the 1920s, starts this movie hamming it up during encores for the opening night of his latest film. During ensuing moments of adulation as he leaves the theatre and confronts the media, Valentin encounters a fan, Peppy Miller, played by Berenice Bejo. From that time, Peppy's ascendancy to stardom equally matches Valentin's decline, in an era during which the 'talkies' take the place of silent films. 'In with the new and out with the old' becomes the day's new theme. Pride interferes with Valentin's ability to see the kindness of many people around him, including Peppy who tries to rescue his career. You will be electrified by Berenice Bejo, who could be the most alluring person you have ever seen on the big screen. Don't be afraid to see this silent film. It will continue to win many awards and they will all be deserved. 10/10.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Later #58 a movie: 'The Iron Lady'

Saw the movie 'The Iron Lady,' a biography of former British Prime Minister Maggie Thatcher played by a very versatile Meryl Streep. This is a present day Thatcher reflecting on a life through her slightly demented mind, but nevertheless holding a steadfast nerve about those reflections. This movie reminds us of a powerful  character  carved in stone from an early age, in a country which had no place for a woman of strength. We are taken to news reel of a divided and violent Britain resisting the changes wrought by Thatcher's resolve for implementing her vision, which she held to be irrepressibly right despite the pain her Government inflicted over 11 years. More than anything, this movie tells us that the exercise of power comes at great personal cost no matter how well prepared and qualified someone thinks they are for the journey. While Streep is an immense actor, the story suffers from being overly ponderous notwithstanding the potential for more consistent drama given the rich subject matter. It's almost like the script writers suffered from the indecision which Thatcher found as immense weakness amongst the people around her during her ascendency and office. Some good reminders of modern British history, but the movie fails to properly exploit the drama of high office which could have been delivered. 5/10.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Later #57 a movie: 'Young Adult'

Saw the movie 'Young Adult,' starring Charlize Theron playing an aging beauty, Mavis, who returns to her home town of Mercury, where she tries to resume a relationship with her now-married high school love interest, Buddy, played by Patrick Wilson. She deliberately sets out to woo Buddy and break up his marriage, notwithstanding warnings from the high school geek, Patton Oswalt, who becomes her unlikely companion during this escapade. Mavis believes that make up, a manicure and a pedicure will allow her to resume her status of 20 years earlier, which was based on the popularity that beauty alone provides to a teenager. She fails to see, however, that her high school alumni and her home town are not the same even if she thinks she is. Just like the book series Mavis writes as ghost author which loses its popularity because of a fading story line, this movie explores how people can turn out much the same way if they fail to evolve. Whether Mavis retains her narcissistic self notwithstanding her experience as an adult returning to Mercury is what we are left to decide. This movie is probably not for the popular audience, but for Theron's excellent performance and the sometimes outrageous exchanges with geek Patton, you should try to see this movie. 6/10.