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Posts Tagged ‘Hugh Jackman’

Hugh Jackman as Gary Hart

“THE FRONT RUNNER” My rating: B-

113 minutes | MPAA rating: R

It is easier to appreciate “The Front Runner” as a pivotal point in our political history than it is to warm up to it as a film.

The subject is Sen. Gary Hart’s 1988 run for the Democratic nomination for President,  the allegations of sexual impropriety that brought him down, and the media’s recognition (however reluctantly) that from here on out a candidate’s private life is fair game for coverage.

It’s been well acted and incisively directed by Jason Reitman (“Up in the Air,” “The Descendents”), yet even as it carefully lays out the parameters of the Hart affair “The Front Runner” seems remote and chilly. Perhaps there are no warm fuzzies in the film because there were no warm fuzzies in the true story.

Hart (Hugh Jackman) was a charismatic liberal with all the right responses. For those who swung left he hit the mark on race, economic disparity, the rapidly evaporating Cold War and other matters.  He might very well have made a great President, one who, according to an admirer, could “untangle the bullshit of politics so anyone can understand.”

Problem is, Hart was far easier to appreciate as a policy wonk than as an individual.  His marriage to Lee (Vera Farmiga) seemed solid — children, rustic home in the Colorado Rockies — but Hart bristled at any attempts to plum the depths of their relationship.  He insisted that the reporters covering him stick to the issues; his life behind the public image was off limits.

He wasn’t even on board with the usual photo ops, complaining that he was caught smiling “like some game show host.”

The screenplay by Reitman, Jay Carson and Matt Bai (on whose book it was based) runs on two parallel tracks.

There’s the insider workings of the Hart campaign, with an emphasis on tough-as-nails manager Bill Dixon (J.K. Simmons) and a host of young volunteers who see in Hart a politician who reflects their generational concerns.

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P.T. Barnum (Hugh Jackman) and his band of oddities

“THE GREATEST SHOWMAN” My rating: B-

105 minutes | MPAA rating: PG

The most memorable utterance attributed to P.T. Barnum — “There’s a sucker born every minute”  — appears nowhere in the original film musical “The Great Showman.”

This is understandable. The quote is thick with contempt/condescension for the everyday idiot.  Michael Gracey’s film, on the other hand, is all about openness and a childlike sense of wonder.

Ostensibly a biography of the 19th-century con man and entertainment entrepreneur, “The Greatest Showman” is a passion project from Aussie actor Hugh Jackman, who has long wanted to tackle the role. (Aside from subject matter, the film is in no way related to the fine 1980 Broadway musical “Barnum.”)

The real Barnum was a wart of a fellow and a self-proclaimed “humbugger,'” certainly not the dashing charmer we get in this production. But then “The Greatest Showman” has been conceived and executed not as history or actual biography but as a colorful commentary on dreaming big and embracing diversity.

The characters are paper thin and the historic details iffy (there appear to be electric lights in a house in the 1850s, the women’s costumes are all over the place).

But it is undeniably entertaining, especially in several of the musical numbers and in a garish presentational approach that reminds of Baz Luhrmann’s work on “Moulin Rouge,” with maybe a touch of Bob Fosse-inspired choreography thrown in for good measure.

Zendaya

We follow the rise of Jackman’s Barnum from struggling shipping company clerk to national prominence. He woos and wins a wealthy young woman (Michelle Williams), in the process alienating her family, who find his work very low class.

He buys a run-down museum in NYC and goes on a world-wide hunt to stock it with human and animal oddities. Before long Barnum can claim among his attractions the world’s smallest man, Tom Thumb, a bearded lady (Keala Settle), Siamese twins, the Dog Boy, the Tattooed Man and  a fellow with three legs.

Far from presenting Barnum as an exploiter of these unfortunates, the film depicts him as a father figure who creates an outcast clan whose members band together for mutual support in defiance of a cruel world.

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Hugh Jackman, Taron Egerton

Hugh Jackman, Taron Egerton

“EDDIE THE EAGLE”  My rating: B- 

 144 minutes  | MPAA rating: PG-13

In the movies, a great story trumps just about every other consideration.

“Eddie the Eagle” is a stolidly inartistic effort burdened with washed-out cinematography, just-OK special effects and a faux-Vangelis soundtrack.

But the more-or-less real-life yarn it tells is such a laugh-inducing, lump-in-the-throat-producing audience pleaser that criticism is beside the point.

The 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, Alberta, gave us the Jamaican bobsled team, subject of the 1993 film “Cool Runnings.” But another oddity of those games was Eddie Edwards, a geeky Brit who showed up as the sole member of his country’s ski jumping team.

Eddie, who had taken up the sport only a year earlier, was clearly out of his league competing against the world’s best. But his goofball personality and obvious love of the sport won over the crowds, who dubbed him Eddie the Eagle and made him a celebrity.

In Dexter Fletcher’s film, Eddie is played by Taron Egerton, who in “Kingsman: The Secret Service” played the street punk who becomes a sophisticated James Bond-ish spy. Here he’s virtually unrecognizable, hiding behind a blond mop, bottle-bottom eyeglasses and an expression of earnest bewilderment.

Far from being a suave secret agent, Egerton’s Eddie is more like Forrest Gump. He’s not feeble-minded, exactly, but he’s childlike enough to believe that dreams come true. And just bright (and lucky) enough to figure out how to get there.

The screenplay by Sean Macaulay and Simon Kelton plays fast and loose with the facts of Eddie Edwards’ life and quest for Olympic immortality. What it gets right, though, is their subject’s never-say-die determination.

In a brief prologue we see Eddie as a boy with “weak knees” and a leg brace that squeaks with every step. Despite a near-total lack of athletic ability, he obsesses about competing in the Olympics. (more…)

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