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Posts Tagged ‘Jamie Dornan’

Jude Hill

“BELFAST” My rating: A- (In theaters)

98 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

The first moments of Kenneth Branagh’s “Belfast” announce that we’re on the cusp of greatness.

And over 90 minutes Branagh’s heartfelt writing/directing effort delivers one of the year’s supreme movie experiences.

The film opens with Chamber of Commerce-style color footage of modern Belfast; then the screen reverts to black and white.

The year is 1969 and cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos’ camera wanders breathlessly among the denizens of a bustling residential street. At the center of the action is 9-year-old Buddy (Jude Hill), all freckles, buck teeth and peach fuzz. He’s an explosion of youthful energy, slaying invisible dragons with a wooden sword.

And then playtime is suddenly over. Buddy freezes while the camera spins around him, revealing at one end of the street — slightly out of focus, making it all the more terrifying — a mob of Protestant rioters who proceed to smash the windows of Catholic houses.

Buddy stands petrified in horror; he’s plucked from the chaos by his mother (Catriona Balfe), who drags him and his teenage brother Will (Lewis McAskle) into the relative safety of their home. As nominal Protestants they’re not targets, but in the chaos anything could happen.

Catriona Balfe, Jamie Dornan

The scene is breathtaking…horrifying yet weirdly beautiful, and it establishes from the outset that the peaceful lives of Buddy and his kin are now forever changed. Religious intolerance and political anger have come to their little corner of Belfast; when next we see Buddy he’s negotiating barbed-wire checkpoints and barricades of abandoned furniture that seal off either end of the street.

“Belfast” references the sectarian civil war that raged in Northern Ireland for decades, but it’s not about history per se. Rather, this is Branagh’s attempt to conjure up his own childhood; it’s a memory play in which very personal moments play out against a looming background of potential violence. There’s not much discussion of politics or Irish history; that’s way over young Buddy’s head.

He’s more concerned with personal issues, like the little Catholic girl at school on whom he has a killer crush, or the threats directed at his father (Jamie Dornan) for refusing to join the Protestant militia (“There’s no ‘our side’ or ‘their side’ on our street.”)

He interacts with his crusty but loving grandparents (Ciaran Hinds, Judi Dench, both shoo-ins for Oscar nominations). He observes his parents’ relationship, the obvious sexual pull between them (in one intoxicating scene they dance in the street to blasts of radio-powered rock ‘n’ roll) and the tensions generated by his father’s work in England (he’s a construction carpenter) and gambling habit.

Judi Dench, Ciaran Hinds

And he is reduced to fearful tears when his parents introduce the idea of moving to London, away from danger and everything young Buddy has known.

The film is crammed with eccentric neighbors and memories of TV shows: Raquel Welsh in fur bikini in “One Million Years B.C.”, John Wayne’s comforting machismo in “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence,” episodes of “Star Trek,” and especially “High Noon” (Buddy can’ help but see his own father as a Gary Cooper character faced with a deadly choice).

And there’s the terrifying sermon delivered by a spittle-spewing preacher that has a worried Buddy drawing up eschatological maps that he hopes will guide him away from hell and into the arms of the holy.

Throughout Branagh and his players maintain a careful balancing act between the deeply personal and the achingly universal; every few minutes the film delivers an emotional coda that will leave audiences reeling.

The acting is impeccable (the best ensemble cast in recent memory) and the technical production jaw-dropping beautiful. The framing of individual shots is a model of effective storytelling; it’s not deep focus, exactly, but every shot is so crammed with detail that you’d swear you could smell individual scenes.

Tie it all up with a killer soundtrack of songs by Belfast native Van Morrison, and you have 2021’s best film.

| Robert W. Butler

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Jamie Dornan, Emily Blunt

“WILD MOUNTAIN THYME” My rating: B-

101 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

I was prepared to dislike “Wild Mountain Thyme” as a collection of hoary old cliches about the Irish. Indeed, the movie is crammed with said cliches.

But about halfway through John Patrick Shanley’s film something  kicked in and my irritation  gave way to a luxurious wallow in romantic sentimentality.

I am ashamed of myself, dear reader, but there you have it.

Shanley, whose career high point remains the Oscar-winning screenplay to 1987’s “Moonstruck” (though one should not dismiss his work a writer/director of 2008’s “Doubt”), attempts here to give us his own “Quiet Man.”

“Wild Mountain Thyme” is a romance crammed with eccentric characters, lots of eye-calming greenery, lilting folk music (especially the haunting title tune), a dispute over farmland and two protagonists who, despite living in the  21st century, appear to have retained their virginity into their mid-30s.

Over aerial views of coastal Ireland a narrator (Christopher Walken) introduces himself as one Tony Reilly, adding “I’m dead.”

Well, death has never stopped an Irishman from talking. From the hereafter the late Tony relates the tale of his son, Anthony (Jamie Dornan), and the girl on the next farm over, Rosemary (Emily Blunt).

Flash back a year. Tony (still alive at this point) is more or less retired. Anthony has been running their farm…badly. He’s a sweet guy but painfully shy and majorly unfocused. How else can you explain living in close proximity to the astounding Rosemary without once picking up a sexual vibe?

As it turns out, Anthony and Rosemary have spent their entire lives in denial that they love one another.  Or they know they yearn for each other but won’t admit it.

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Rosamund Pike as Marie Colvin

“A PRIVATE WAR” My rating: B+ 

110 minutes | MPAA rating: R

There have been enough movies about war correspondents to make up a cinematic subgenre, yet I can recall none with the pure emotional power of “A Private War.”

No doubt much of that has to do with the fact that it’s a true story.  Marie Colvin was a native of Long Island who got into the journalism game and by middle age was one of the most renowned war correspondents on the planet. By the time she died in 2012 covering the civil war in Syria for Britain’s The Sunday Times, she had seen more war than most career soldiers.

No amount of hyperbole can quite express how good Brit actress Rosamund Pike is in the leading role. Her nuanced performance paints an indelible portrait of a woman who was simultaneously heroic and horrified, driven into the arms of danger by a fatal idealism most of us can understand but few of us could emulate.

Kudos to screenwriter Arash Amel, who in adapting Marie Brenner’s Vanity Fair profile has found just the right balance of the intensely personal and sweepingly epic; and especially to first-time feature director Matthew Heinemann, whose background in documentaries (his “City of Ghosts,” about volunteer Syrian rescue crews who risk death by pulling  victims from the rubble of bombed-out cities) provided the perfect on-the-job training for this scarily realistic hand-held depiction of modern warfare.

Early in the film Colvin loses an eye covering a revolution in Sri Lanka.  For most of us that would be it…time for a nice cushy desk job.

Not this woman.  (“I’m not hanging up my flak jacket.”)

Driven by a near-pathological need to experience and report the hardships of citizens in war zones, she returns again and again to dangerous environs, focusing not on soldiers but on the suffering of the common man. Even while the bullets were still flying in the U.S. occupation of Iran, Colvin hired heavy equipment to unearth a mass grave where Saddam’s minions had secretly murdered and buried hundreds of villagers who had defied his reign.

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Jamie Dornan, ****

Jamie Dornan, Aiden Longworth

“THE 9th LIFE OF LOUIS DRAX” My rating: C-

118 minutes | MPAA rating: R

“The 9th Life of Louis Drax” has been competently produced and adequately acted.

Nonetheless, I hated it.  Phoniness oozes from every frame (assuming that “frames” even exist in digital film).

In a hospital bed in a special ward dedicated to pediatric coma victims, little Louis Drax (Aiden Longworth) vegetates.

Apparently while on a family picnic the boy was thrown off a cliff and into the sea by his father. A statewide manhunt is now underway to track down this paternal monster.

Sarah Gadon

Sarah Gadon

Meanwhile Louis’ mom, the long-suffering Natalie (Sarah Gadon), waits moist-eyed by his bedside. She’s so sensitive. So fragile yet so strong for her son. So freakin’ hot.

Who can blame Louis’ hunky young M.D., Allan Pascal  (Jamie Dornan of “Fifty Shades…” fame), for experiencing flickerings of lust…flickerings which Natalie suggests might be reciprocated, her recent tragedy notwithstanding?

Directed by French helmer Alexandre Aja (“The Hills Have Eyes” remake, “High Tension”) and scripted by Max Minghella (from Liz Jensen’s novel), “The 9th Life of Louis Drax” is a con job, a not-so-mysterious mystery (I had more or less figured out the truth halfway through) that attempts to mask its predictability with a time-leaping narrative, fantasy sequences and obfuscatory storytelling.

The film begins with a montage of the many times in his young life that Louis Drax has cheated death.  Little Louis narrates this parade of near-horrors, describing himself as accident prone. Well, duh. Electrocution, falls…the kid is almost comically clumsy.

This segment is presented as a semi-playful fable about a little boy who just can’t be killed. It’s borderline charming in an “Amelie” vein.

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Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan

Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan

“FIFTY SHADES OF GREY” My rating: C+

125 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Great literature often defies cinematic adaptation. Bad novels, on the other hand, are right up Hollywood’s alley.

Those who take reading even halfway seriously agree that E.L. James’ best-selling Fifty Shades of Grey is wretched stuff.  A page-turner, perhaps. But wretched.

And yet the movie version — the first 45 minutes or so, anyway — is actually kinda fun, embracing a tongue-in-cheek (no pun intended) sensibility that finds unexpected humor in James’ heavy-panting tale of fabulous wealth and kinky sexual proclivities.

One only wishes that director Sam Taylor-Johnson (whose only previous feature was her young-John-Lennon biopic “Nowhere Boy”) had gone whole hog in slyly subverting the whole “Fifty Shades” phenomenon.

As it stands she’s taken a safe middle ground — nothing to outrage the novel’s loyal fans, but enough wryness that a non-believer can find the experience mildly amusing. And, thank heaven, the movie doesn’t force us to wade through James’ purple prose.

Credit for the film’s strong first half rests largely on Dakota Johnson (daughter of Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith), who plays college student Anastasia “Ana” Steele as an adorably dweeby girl-next-door.

She agrees to fill in for her ailing editor roomie for a newspaper interview with Christian Grey (former model Jamie Dornan), the 27-year-old billionaire industrialist. There’s a great deadpan comic moment when she pulls up to the Grey House in downtown Seattle, finds a parking spot right in front of the entrance (religions have been founded on less) and stares up at the phallic skyscraper with open-mouthed awe.

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