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Posts Tagged ‘Jeremy Irons’

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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Dev Patel

Dev Patel as math genius Srinivasa Ramanujan

“THE MAN WHO KNEW INFINITY” My rating: B-

108 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Despite the title, “The Man Who Knew Infinity” is not a science fiction yarn…although its real-life hero was probably regarded by his contemporaries as an extraterrestrial or a visitor from the future.

Srinivasa Ramanujan (1887-1920) is, nearly a century after his death, still regarded as one of the most important mathematicians of all time. He appears to have been a natural — he never received any formal training.

Writer/director Matt Brown’s biopic follows Ramanujan (Dev Patel) from an impoverished childhood and early marriage in India to the heights of mathematical study at Trinity College, Cambridge. The bulk of the film takes place in pre-World War I England where the young savant becomes a protege of math great G.H. Hardy — although after a few weeks one could ask who exactly  is teaching whom.

Granted, few moviegoers regard math as a scintillating subject for dramatic exploration. Indeed, while “The Man Who Knew Infinity” (the title refers to Ramanujan’s ability to visualize numbers so large they put the rest of us into meltdown) cannot escape talk about primes, theta functions, divergent series and whatnot, the film’s dramatic core rests on more recognizable issues.

Like racism.  For all his genius, Ramanujan was regarded by many on the Cambridge faculty as a mere “wog.” The prevailing view was that as such he must have stolen his results from brighter (i.e.,  whiter) minds. Even Hardy begins their relationship with a rather patronizing attitude. At times the Indian guest faces physical violence.

Not to mention the isolation of being one of the few Indians on campus. A strict vegetarian, Ramanujan discovered to his dismay that in England even vegetables are cooked in lard; the combination of a poor diet and a miserable English winter probably contributed to his early death.

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Tom Hiddleston

Tom Hiddleston

“HIGH-RISE” My rating: C+

119 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Duration is the enemy of allegory.

At 50 minutes Ben Wheatley’s “High-Rise” would have been a stunning achievement — a vicious, snarling, breathless satire of class warfare and social apocalypse.

At two hours, though, it’s a slog, one that very nearly wears out its welcome and ends up repeating itself like a 33-record with a track-skipping scratch.

Screenwriter Amy Jump’s adaptation of the 1975 novel by J.G. Ballard (Crash) bears more than a few  similarities to William Golding’s Lord of the Flies and especially to the the recent cult hit “Snowpiercer.”  Just replace the hermetically sealed high-speed train with an equally isolated high-rise apartment complex.

We are introduced to this modern Tower of Babel through the new tenant, Liang (Tom Hiddleston, who seems to be everywhere nowadays: “I Saw the Light,” TV’s “The Night Manager,” Marvel movies).  An unmarried M.D. with more money than he knows what to do with, Liang takes an apartment about halfway up the 30-plus story edifice.

The tower has all the amenities of a decent-sized town: health spa, swimming pool, school, a traditional English garden on the rooftop complete with livestock. There’s even a grocery store that sells only generic products (“Thank you for shopping on floor 15”). Alas, the place is chilly and sterile, all poured concrete and glass. Which is fine with Liang, who has no furniture and never gets around to unpacking his boxes.

It quickly dawns on the newcomer that the building has a social pecking order.  Towering over everyone else in his penthouse is the symbolically named Royal (Jeremy Irons), the architect who designed the building and is forever tinkering with improvements meant to validate his experiment in social engineering.

Just below Royal are the wealthy aristocrats embodied by the sneering, pompous Pangbourne (James Purfoy).

Then come the mid-level residents like Liang and Charlotte (Sienna Miller), the salacious single mom whose bright young son (Louis Suc) is building what looks like a homemade bomb.

Below Liang are residents like Wilder (“The Hobbit’s” Luke Evans), an aggressive and rabble-rousing documentary film maker, and his ever-pregnant wife Helen (Elisabeth Moss). (more…)

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Stephen James (right) as Olympian Jesse Owens

Stephan James (right) as Olympian Jesse Owens

“RACE” My rating: B-

134 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

“RACE”  2 1/2 stars   PG-13   134 minutes

Eighty years, a world war and a civil rights revolution later, the story of Olympic track star Jesse Owens still packs a wallop.

Here was an African-American athlete who had to endure racism at home yet became the standard bearer for the American Olympic team at the 1936 Berlin games, winning a record four gold medals.

Owens provided so conclusive a refutation of Nazi racial theories that Adolf Hitler left  the stadium so he wouldn’t be photographed congratulating a black man.

As you’d expect, “Race,” the cleverly-titled film about the ’36 games — is inspiring. But it is also insipid.

When it’s dealing with the big issues of history and race, this film from director Stephen Hopkins (“The Ghost and the Darkness,” “Predator 2” and a ton of TV) generally gets it right, placing Owens’ achievements against a background of discrimination and political upheaval that makes them all the more impressive.

On the level of personal drama, though, “Race” feels like a standard-issue sports movie: not exactly wince-worthy, but cliched and superficial.

But, hey, you can’t be too disappointed in a film that offers as one of its characters the great German documentarist Leni Riefenstahl.

The screenplay by Joe Shrapnel and Anna Waterhouse alternates between Owens’ personal story — that of a high school track star who wins a scholarship to Ohio State University, sets world records and aims for the Olympics — and the societal and political convulsions of those years.

In the private story line Jesse (“Selma’s” Stephan James) gets tough love from track coach Larry Snyder (KC’s Jason Sudeikis, in his first serious dramatic role). He becomes famous, falls for a fancy lady, then thinks better of it and seeks forgiveness from the hometown gal (Shanice Banton) by whom he has a young daughter.

But it’s pretty obvious that training montages and an unremarkable romance didn’t inspire the screenwriters. What lights their fire is the chance to re-create the world of the 1930s.

For example, at a meeting of the U.S. Olympic Committee, member Jeremiah Mahoney (William Hurt) squares off against chairman Avery Brundage (Jeremy Irons) over whether, by going to Berlin, American athletes are endorsing Naziism. The scene plays like a moral and intellectual battle of giants. (more…)

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“MARGIN CALL” My rating: B+ (Opens wide on Oct. 28)

105 minutes | MPAA rating: R

First-time features don’t get a whole lot more assured than “Margin Call,” an incisive, biting look at the Wall Street mindset and machinations that led to our current economic doldrums.

A bunch of suits standing around talking may not sound all that interesting, but J.C. Chandoor’s writing/directing debut (after several years in advertising and music videos) succeeds both as a personal drama of individuals and as an allegory about what plagues American capitalism in this still-young century.

And he has an ensemble cast to kill for.

Unfolding over 24 hours in a major New York banking/investment firm, this boardroom thriller unfolds like a finely-tuned stage play, with sharp characterizations and killer dialogue. (You may be reminded of Mamet in his prime.)

But if it feels claustrophobic, it’s claustrophobic in just the right way, suggesting a much bigger world where the decisions made overnight in this tower of glass will have devastating repercussions.

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