Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Helen Mirren’

Will Smith, Helen Mirren

Will Smith, Helen Mirren

“COLLATERAL BEAUTY” My rating: C-

97 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

“Collateral Beauty” starts out as an imaginative riff on that old chestnut “A Christmas Carol.”

Alas, it ends by leaving the audience feeling used and abused.

The latest from director David Frankel (“The Devil Wears Prada,” “Marley and Me,” “Hope Springs”) stars Will Smith as Howard, the poet/guru of a boutique advertising agency who, in the aftermath of his child’s death, has become a vacant-eyed wraith.

Howard still comes to the office, but he no longer services clients or gives New Age-y pep talks to the staff. Now he devotes his energy to building elaborate domino constructions which he then destroys in gravity-fueled chain reactions.

His partners in the firm — Whit (Edward Norton), Claire (Kate Winslet) and Simon (Michael Pena) — are frantic. With Howard in a funk their business is circling the drain…it’s looking like all they’ll be getting for Christmas are unemployment checks.

So they come up with a desperate — and, BTW, wildly unethical — plan.  Learning that Howard has been mailing agonizing letters to Death, Love and Time (you’ve got to wonder what the Post Office does with them), they hire three struggling actors to portray those very concepts.

The idea  is to have these “spirits” pop in unexpectedly on Howard. Hopefully these confrontations with the Great Unknown will push him out of his shell of grief and misery.

Hmmm. What possibly could go wrong with an elaborate metaphysical ruse thrust upon a severely depressed individual?

The  actors (they’re members of the Hegel Theater Company, which suggests they have struggles of their own) take the job because they need the cash — they’re about to lose the lease on their theater.

The leader and mother hen of the bunch is Brigitte (Helen Mirren), who will embody Death.  Amy (Keira Knightley) will approach Howard as Love.  Raffi (Jacob Latimore) will perform the role of Time.

Brigitte, played by Mirren as amusing font of actorish ego and process, thinks this could be the performance of her lifetime:  “He’s reaching out to the cosmos for answers. We get to be that cosmos.”

Brigitte is such an old ham than when her colleagues question the morality of the gig, she eagerly volunteers to play all three roles.

(more…)

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

eyesky“EYE IN THE SKY”  My rating: B

102  minutes | MPAA rating: R

 

In the wars of the 21st century drones and robots do all the dirty work, directed by mouse jockeys on the other side of the world who risk little more than a case of carpal tunnel syndrome.

But even if you’re one of those remote-control button pushers, it’s still war. It’s still killing. There are still ethical consequences.

Gavin Hood’s “Eye in the Sky” offers a fingernail-gnawing look at this new kind of warfare. Scripted by Guy Hibbert, it’s a taut well-acted thriller that raises all sorts of moral questions — Hitchcock with a conscience.

Aaron Paul

Aaron Paul

At various points around the globe, high-tech warriors gather to capture a husband-and-wife team of Islamic terrorists (she’s a British citizen, he’s an American) operating in East Africa.

The actual takedown will be executed on the ground by Kenyan security forces. The operation will be observed from 22,000 feet by an armed American drone, the mission’s “eye in the sky” operated by an Air Force pilot [Air Force Lt. Steve Watts] (Aaron Paul) from the desert outside Las Vegas.

In charge of the overall mission is a calculating British Army colonel [Col. Katherine Powell] (Helen Mirren), who from her bunker in the English countryside has been directing a manhunt lasting more than six years. She can almost taste the long-awaited victory.

In a comfortable London office a British general (Alan Rickman in one of his last roles) sits with a group of civilian government officials watching it all unfold on closed-circuit television. They’re standing by to give their legal opinions and, ultimately, permission for the mission to continue.

But from the beginning the operation hits snags. The targets relocate to a village in terrorist-controlled territory where ground forces are denied entry.

A sole undercover agent (“Captain Phillips’” Barkhad [Barked] Abdi) gets close enough to set loose a tiny surveillance drone that looks like a large flying insect (apparently our arsenal holds all sorts of marvelous toys); from its fly-on-the-wall vantage point inside the house this tiny spy reveals that the residents are suiting up for a suicide bomb attack.

(more…)

Read Full Post »

Bryan Cranston as screenwriter Dalton Trumbo

Bryan Cranston as screenwriter Dalton Trumbo

“TRUMBO” My rating: B 

124 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Bryan Cranston is very good as Dalton Trumbo, the screenwriter/Communist/bon vivant/savage wit who won two Oscars under pseudonyms while blacklisted for his politics.

But who would have predicted that “Trumbo” would practically be stolen out from under the multiple Emmy winner by Helen Mirren and John Goodman?

It’s a surfeit of riches.

Dalton Trumbo was contradictory, infuriating, self-righteous, pompous, and wickedly funny. He was very well paid and lived on a sprawling California ranch (earning criticism for being a “swimming pool Soviet”) but appears to have been utterly sincere about making the United States a better place.

He joined the Communist Party of the U.S. largely out of his opposition to fascism in Europe (and, let’s be honest, at home as well). That came back to bite him in the ass after WWII when America went Commie crazy and the House Un-American Activities Committee subpoenaed Trumbo and other Hollywood leftists in a search for Red influence in popular entertainment.

Ten of these unfriendly witnesses refused to answer questions, standing on their Fifth Amendment rights and the fact that joining the Communist Party was perfectly legal.

They were convicted of contempt of Congress (Trumbo publicly acknowledged that he was indeed hugely contemptuous of the bullying Congress), spent a year in prison and emerged to find themselves unable to work in the film or television industry.

Most saw their careers ruined. Trumbo began cranking out screenplays under fake names. Much of his work of this period was pure exploitative schlock, but two of his scripts — for “Roman Holiday” and “The Brave One” — won Oscars, although of course Trumbo could not acknowledge they were his work.

(more…)

Read Full Post »

Helen Mirren, Ryan Reynolds

Helen Mirren, Ryan Reynolds

“WOMAN IN GOLD” My rating: B- 

109 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

Despite a tendency to dilute its message with easily digestible Hollywood moments, “Woman in Gold” provides the formidable Helen Mirren with yet another juicy role while raising some thought-provoking questions about art, ownership, and societal upheaval.

The subject is the real-life pursuit of California transplant Maria Altmann (Mirren) to reclaim several paintings stolen from her Jewish family in Vienna by the Nazis. The most  important piece is Gustav Klimt’s “Lady in Gold,” also known as “Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer” (Adele was Maria Altmann’s aunt). It and several additional Klimt paintings were looted by the Germans and after the war became the property of the Austrian state.

This film from director Simon Curtis (“My Week with Marilyn”)  follows parallel narratives  separated by six decades.

In the modern day  — roughly 1998 to 2006 — we follow the efforts of the octogenarian Altmann, operator of a high-end  Los Angeles fashion shop, to reclaim her family’s artwork. In this she is assisted by struggling lawyer Randol Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds), whose own family history is rooted in Austria — he is the grandson of classical composer Arnold Schoenberg.

They make for an odd couple legal team. Maria is a friend of Randol’s mother and hopes that he will “help me out on the side…like a hobby.” She’s opinionated, sometimes brusque and in your face.

Randol, on the other hand, is not terribly successful and struggling to make ends meet. He only fully gets involved when he realizes that the paintings Maria hopes to recover are worth upwards of $150 million.

Problem is, the Austrian government sees them as priceless, as part of that nation’s psyche, with “Lady in Gold” often compared to the “Mona Lisa.”  Maria’s initial efforts are rebuffed, and it is only after she sues the Austrian government through the American legal system — a case that will go all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court — that her efforts gain any traction.

(more…)

Read Full Post »

Om Puri and Helen Mirren

Om Puri and Helen Mirren

“THE HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEY” My rating: B  (Opening wide on Aug. 8)

122 minutes | MPAA rating: PG

Moviegoers are forgiven for approaching “The Hundred-Foot Journey” with foreboding. From the ads one might reasonably conclude that this is yet another middlebrow movie tailor-made to soothe (but never challenge) the sensibilities of the art house blue-hair brigade.

Well, Lasse Hallstrom’s film is definitely middlebrow, and it is certainly soothing — but it’s also very well acted and emotionally potent. It  introduces two newcomers (quite possibly the handsomest couple I’ve seen on screen in ages) who will, if there is any justice, become overnight stars. And they are perfectly complemented by two cinema veterans at the top of their game.

Plus, “The Hundred-Foot Journey” is, God help me, life-affirming, albeit without feeling manipulative. (I don’t mind when a movie makes me cry…only when it twists my arm to achieve that effect.)

The widower  Kadam (Om Puri) has fled political upheaval in his native India and with his five children has opened a restaurant outside London. But the weather sucks and now they are driving around Europe, trying to find a place to settle down. (Granted, this doesn’t sound like a terribly smart business plan, but since Kadam still converses regularly with his dead wife, you’ve got to assume cosmic forces are in play.)

The family’s van breaks down in a postcard-perfect French burg (it’s got a river, rolling hills and a view of the mountains) and Kadam gloms onto an abandoned building that he believes could become the home for his new Indian restaurant.

Problem is, it sits just across the road (100 feet away, to be precise) from a Michelin-starred French restaurant operated for decades by the widow Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren). Mallory is a shrewish lady who lives and breathes haute cuisine, and she is appalled by the Kadam family’s blaring Bollywood music, the garish colors of their restaurant’s decor, and the heavily-spiced odors that drift across the road and into her stuffy establishment. (“If your food is anything like your music, I suggest you tone it down.”)

(more…)

Read Full Post »

Sam Riley, Andrea Riseborough in "Brighton Rock"

“BRIGHTON ROCK” My rating: B- (Opening Oct. 7 at the Glenwood at Red Bridge)

111 minutes | No MPAA rating

For his feature film directing debut, Rowan Joffe (he was the screenwriter for George Clooney’s “The American” and the zombie flick “28 Weeks Later”) has turned to the classics, so to speak.

Or at least to Graham Greene.

“Brighton Rock” is the second screen adaptation of Greene’s 1938 novel about a ruthless young hoodlum and his naive girlfriend in the titular British resort town.

The original 1947 film made a star of young Richard Attenborough, who played the amoral young thug Pinkie Brown; it’s unlikely the same will be said of any of the cast members of this version.

Not that the film is poorly acted. It isn’t. But even with a happy ending tacked on (the same happy ending tacked onto the previous version), this is a sad, soul-sucking experience.

(more…)

Read Full Post »

Jessica Chastain, Sam Worthington

“THE DEBT” My rating: C+ (Opening wide Aug. 31)

114 minutes | MPAA rating: R

It’s got star power out the wazoo, yet “The Debt” feels slight and perfunctory.

It certainly never achieves the depths it is so clearly aiming for; perhaps this remake of a hit Israeli thriller requires an Israeli audience to truly appreciate the morally conflicted situation it presents.

John Madden’s film takes place in two decades separated by 30 years. In the present (actually the mid-1990’s) we have the publication of a book about one of Mossad’s most celebrated operations: the 1966 capture and elimination of German war criminal Dieter Vogel, the notorious “Surgeon of Birkenau” who conducted fiendish “medical” experiments on Jewish prisoners.

The agents who undertook that mission — Rachel Singer (Helen Mirren), her husband Stephan Gold (Tom Wilkinson) and David Peretz (Ciaran Hinds) — long have been regarded as national heroes.

But the book’s publication opens old wounds, for these three know their story is based on a lie.

Okay, that’s a good premise.

(more…)

Read Full Post »