Posts Tagged ‘Bill Nighy’

Bill Nighy

“LIVING” My rating: A- (Theaters)

102 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

Just about every element of “Living” works perfectly…which one half expects given that it’s a Brit remake of the brilliant Akira Kurosawa film “Ikiru (To Live).”

To that 1952 humanist triumph (about a gray civil servant whose life finds focus only when he faces death), screenwriter Kazoo Ishiguro and director Oliver Herman add a funny/sad study of a singularly English form of emotional constipation. There are actually some chuckles in this tale of a man with a fatal disease.

And the fact that the man in question is portrayed by the great Bill Nighy kicks “Living” into the emotional stratosphere. Nighy has won an Oscar nomination for his work here…I’ll be rooting for him to take home the golden boy.

“Living” opens with vintage color footage of post-war London, then cuts to a suburban train platform populated by identically-clad office workers (three-piece suits, bowler hats, briefcases and umbrellas) on their way to their jobs in the city. Director Herman has a good time framing and choreographing their movements to remind us of the zombie proles in Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis.”

We are introduced to Wakeling (Alex Sharp), a new hire at the public works office overseen by Nighy’s Mr. Williams. The kid learns quickly that the office is a place of Scrooge-ish joylessness; he and his colleagues are expected to shuffle much paperwork while accomplishing very little.

Woe be the citizen who enters this daunting bureaucratic maze, as Wakeling discovers when assigned to assist three housewives seeking to have a children’s playground built in the rat-infested bomb crater near their tenement.

Early on the sepulchral Williams visits a physician’s office where he gets bad news. The normally uncommunicative widower considers revealing his grim diagnosis to his live-in son and daughter-in-law, but can’t quite bring himself to open up.

Instead he plays hooky for the first time in his life. Rather than commuting to his desk Williams takes the train to a seaside resort where he is befriended by a rather seedy young intellectual (Tom Burke) and led on a Nighttown-style tour of disreputable cellars, jazz venues and strip-tease shows. It may be the closest thing to a holiday the stiff scarecrow has allowed himself in decades.

Back in London he befriends a young woman (Aimee Lou Wood) who recently left his employ; it is slowly dawning on Williams that while he is surrounded by other people, he actually knows none of them.

Bill Nighy, Aimee Lou Wood

“Living” effortless adapts the unusual narrative of the Kurosawa film — the second half is devoted to Williams’ co-workers reflecting on how he chose to spend his final months — and we’re once again reminded of the original’s stroke of genius, the ways in which it mines emotions without stooping to stridency or heavy-handed bathos.

That savvy sense of restraint also permeates Nighy’s performance. His Williams at first presents as a human chalk stick — dry, white and brittle. Small wonder his newfound female friend describes him as “dead but not dead.”

But little by little we see the character grow aware of sensibilities that have been long dormant. Some actors would aim for the big moment, but Nighy gives a performance of astonishing subtlety. He knows a little goes a long way; he can make us feel more with a straight face than other players could evoke with howls and breast beating.

The resulting movie is a quiet triumph and an unexpected paradox: a feel-good film about dying.

| Robert W. Butler

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Emily Mortimer

“THE BOOKSHOP” My rating: B

113 minutes | MPAA rating: PG

“The Bookshop” is an insidious bit of bait and switch.

As it starts out a viewer is confident that he or she is entering familiar territory.  In 1959 a war widow opens a bookshop in  picturesque British coastal town.

So this is going to be a feel-good movie about the power of literature to illuminate gray lives, right? And the lady storeowner will undoubtedly find romance with one of the locals…maybe a handsome fisherman?

Also, our  heroine sells controversial books like Nabokov’s Lolita. So the film will depict the conflict between the local blue noses and everybody else’s right to read, eh?

Uh, no.

Isabel Coixet’s film, adapted from Penelope Fitzgerald’s novel, is much darker than that.  Here the common man is something less than noble and the good guys shouldn’t expect to win.

All might have gone swimmingly had Florence Green (Emily Mortimer) not chosen as the site of her new book shop the long-abandoned  Old House, a historic structure fallen on hard times. She buys the place at bargain prices, installs shelves and orders crates of books.

She hires Christine (Honor Kneafsey), the child of local laborers, as her after-school assistant.

And she cultivates the attentions of the  eccentric  town hermit, Edmund (Bill Nighy), a voracious reader living in a slowly decaying mansion. He’s this movie’s version of Miss Havisham.


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Gemma Atherton, Bill Nighy

“THEIR FINEST” My rating: B-

117 minutes | MPAA rating: R

What is it with filmmakers making movies about making movies?

“Their Finest,” the latest from Danish director Lone Scherfig (“Italian for Beginners”), takes that admittedly amusing self-absorption and pumps it up with World War II-era nostalgia and nascent female empowerment.

In Blitz-ravaged London, copywriter Catrin Cole (Gemma Arterton) lands the gig of a lifetime.  She’s hired by the Ministry of Information’s Film Division to write a feature film — one that is both “authentic and optimistic” — that will embody Britain’s can-do spirit in the face of Hitler’s juggernaut.

The film is intended as pan-Atlantic propaganda that will show war-wary American audiences that Britain is more than supercilious aristocrats, that it’s a nation of everyday men and women fighting heroically for survival.

Catrin finds her subject in the real-life experiences of two spinster sisters who stole their drunken uncle’s boat and became part of the mass evacuation of British troops from Dunkirk in France.

Though she already has a significant other (Jack Huston, playing an unsuccessful painter of glum cityscapes), Catrin finds intellectual stimulation (and other sorts as well) in her new writing partner, Tom Buckley (Sam Claflin). He’s one of those seen-everything cynics who nevertheless knows exactly how to manipulate an audience (“Film is real life with the boring stuff cut out”).

Together they figure out how to cajole a fading matinee idol  (Bill Nighy, playing the sort of jaded egomaniac he does so well) into taking the seemingly inconsequential role of the drunken uncle. Somewhat more perplexing is how they are to satisfy the Ministry by creating a character for a non-acting American  (Jake Lacy) who has been flying missions for the R.A.F.


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The usual suspects reunite

The usual suspects reunite


122 minutes | MPAA rating: PG

Ideally, a sequel gets made because there’s more to explore in the story or characters.

Most often, though, the sole motive is money.

And you can hear the spare change clanking incessantly beneath the dialogue of “The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.”

The first film was a sleeper hit, thanks to its stellar British cast (Maggie Smith, Bill Nighy, Judi Dench), the exotic Indian setting and its amusing blend of expatriate adventure and cheeky septuagenarian sexuality.

It never added up to much, but it went down easily, especially with the gray-haired crowd that rarely gets to see itself portrayed with any sort of dignity on the big screen.

But though this follow-up was made by the same people — director John Madden, screenwriter Ol Parker and the returning players — all the charm seems to have evaporated. It’s a paint-by-numbers effort.

The screenplay gives each of the retiree residents of the Marigold Hotel [added:] in Jaipur a crisis to overcome — usually a romantic one. Contrasting against those late-life liaisons are the impending nuptials of young hotel operator Sonny Kapoor (Dev Patel) and his beloved Sunaina (Tina Desai).

Fortune hunter Madge (Celia Imrie) has two well-heeled Indian gentlemen on tap but can’t decide which one to marry. Nighy’s Douglas is smitten with Dench’s Evelyn, but he’s too shy to jump and she won’t commit.

Bon vivant Norman (Ronald Pickup) fears that he has inadvertently put out a mob hit on his girlfriend, Carol (Diana Hardcastle).

Muriel (Maggie Smith) grumpily lectures Americans on how to make tea and quietly nurses her concerns when a medical checkup doesn’t go as planned.

These subplots circle a larger story.


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