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Posts Tagged ‘Nicole Kidman’

Nicole Kidman

“QUEEN OF THE DESERT”  My rating: C+

129 minutes | MPAA rating PG-13

“Queen of the Desert” is quite possibly the oddest film of director Warner Herzog’s wildly idiosyncratic  career.

A mash-up of woman’s picture, real-life biography and sweeping  “Lawrence of Arabia” images, it stars Nicole Kidman as Gertrude Bell, a British adventuress, diplomat, archaeologist and feminist who became an expert on the Middle East in the years before World War I.

We first encounter our heroine in 1888. The daughter of a steel magnate, she’s being groomed for a fitting marriage.

“You will not scare the young men with your intelligence,” her mother warns, but Gertrude is having none of it. She’s too independent, too strong willed to endure simpering aristocratic society.

(Kidman, now 49, plays Bell from age 21 to 40. Remarkably, she pulls off the youthful Gertrude, thanks to great makeup and God-given bone structure.)

Her exasperated father finally agrees to let her join the British embassy in Teheran where she soon finds herself falling for Henry  Cadogan (James Franco, struggling to maintain a Brit accent), a low-ranking staff member assigned as her escort. Henry’s prospects aren’t promising, but like Gertrude he loves the desert. And he’s not afraid of her independent streak.

Daddy, however, nixes this liaison, and a heartbroken Gertrude turns her back on romance, devoting herself to travels in the Middle East, crossing vast deserts with a handful of faithful local guides.

During her travels she runs across a young T.E. Lawrence (Robert Pattinson), working on an archaeological dig at Petra in Jordan. Years away from his exploits among the Arab tribes in the Great War, Lawrence already wears the native costume that will become his trademark.  He and Gertrude flirt innocently, but neither is looking for a relationship.

Over years Gertrude is befriended by the Bedouin. She also finds a lover — platonic — in married British statesman Charles Doughty-Wylie (Damien Lewis).

Eventually Gertrude is recognized by her government and with Lawrence is part of the commission that divides up the Middle East in the wake of the war.

 

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Sunny Pawer

Sunny Pawer

“LION” My rating: B+

118 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

Half Dickensian epic, half heart-wrenching domestic drama, “Lion” tells a real-life story so unlikely that it stretches credulity.

But it happened.

In 1986 five-year-old Saroo (Sunny Pawer, in one of the most astonishing performances by a young child ever captured on film)  was living with his widowed mother and two siblings in a rural area of central India.  His mother worked as a laborer (she literally lifted rocks all day); Saroo and an older brother stole lumps of coal from passing trains,  trading them for food.

On one nighttime outing, Saroo was separated from his brother and found himself locked inside an empty passenger train being driven more than 1,000 miles to Calcutta to be decommissioned.

Little Saroo didn’t know his family’s last name or the town he hailed from. Worse, he spoke only Hindi, while the Calcuttans spoke Bengali.

For months the child lived on the street — begging, stealing, avoiding capture by criminals seeking child prostitutes. After several close calls Saroo found himself in an orphanage where, miraculously enough, he was paired with an Australian couple, John and Sue Brierley (David Wenham, Nicole Kidman).

Relocated to middle-class comfort in Tasmania, the lost boy seemed to have washed up in paradise.  Not even the addition to the family of his troubled adopted brother, Mantosh — like Saroo an Indian orphan but with severe emotional and social issues — could seriously erode the fairy-tale quality of Saroo’s good fortune.

(By the way, John and Sue seem pretty good candidates for sainthood.)

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Julia Roberts

Julia Roberts

“SECRET IN THEIR EYES” My rating: C

111 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

Some stories cannot be transplanted from one culture to another without losing much in the process.

Such is the case with “Secret in Their Eyes,” an American remake of an Argentine release which in 2010 won the Oscar for best foreign language film.

The story arcs of the two films are pretty much interchangeable. Both feature a chase through a packed sports stadium, and each ends with a head-spinning last-act revelation capable of inducing a tummy full of dread.

And yet the particulars are different enough that what worked magnificently in one version sputters and dies in the other.

This film from writer/director Billy Ray (“Shattered Glass,” “Breach”) is presented as two interlocking stories taking place in two decades.

In the present former FBI agent (now he handles security for the New York Mets) Ray (Chiwetel Ejiofor) returns to his old haunts in Los Angeles to complete some unfinished business.

For 13 years Ray has been haunted by the murder of young Caroline Cobb, whose mother Jess (Julia Roberts) was a colleague and investigator for the L.A. District Attorney’s Office.

Ray and Jess were part of a task force looking for terrorist activity originating in a local mosque. The most likely murder suspect was a oddball young man and a member of that congregation.

But the D.A. (Alfred Molina) kept throwing roadblocks in front of the murder investigation. Eventually it was revealed that the suspect was a confidential informant reporting on activities at the mosque. Killer or not, the powers that be are kept him out of the legal system. Given the rampant paranoia after 9/11, they decided that preventing another terrorist attack trumps solving a young woman’s murder.

Despite lacking legal authorization or jurisdiction, Ray and Jess (Roberts has dowdied herself into near-unrecognizability) went after the suspect on their own. They were cautiously abetted by Claire (Nicole Kidman), a new prosecutor for whom Ray had (and continues to have) a raging case of unrequited love/lust.

But the suspect vanishes and the trail went cold.

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Colin Firth, Nicole Kidman

Colin Firth, Nicole Kidman

“THE RAILWAY MAN”  My rating: B- (Now showing at the Glenwood Arts)

116 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Knowing that the story told in “The Railway Man” is more or less true is essential to appreciating Jonathan Teplitzky’s film.

For there are moments here – lots of them – when I felt I’d been conned into a clumsily structured, overly earnest “lesson” film.

The story begins with a bit of deceptive  romance.  Sixtyish Eric Lomax (Colin Firth) is a British bachelor who loves trains.  He’s not a trainspotter, he emphasizes, but a “train enthusiast.”  This being 1980 in jolly olde England, there are plenty of trains to take pleasure in.

On one such train he runs into Patti (Nicole Kidman), a recently divorced woman whom he helps plana trip to Scotland.  Eric may not be terribly adept socially, but he apparently has the schedule of every train in Britain committed to memory.

As they cruise through the countryside, Eric regales her with bits of local history.  One town, he notes, was where the film “Brief Encounter” was shot…a nice observation since Eric and Patti seem to be living their own version of that classic movie.

So…”The Railway Man” is a sweet,  late-in-life love story?

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Mia Wasikowska, Matthew Goode

Mia Wasikowska, Matthew Goode

“STOKER” My rating: B- (Opens March 22 at the Glenwood Arts and Tivoli)

99 minutes | MPAA rating: R

“Stoker” represents an extraordinary level of film craftsmanship.

Every shot, every color choice, every cut and transition, the soundtrack – even  the opening credits –suggest an almost obsessive determination to get all the details exactly right. On so many levels the movie is breathtaking.

Given this, why isn’t Korean director Park Chan-wook‘s first English-language film more satisfying?

I think it’s because in trying to give us a classic Hitchcock-style suspense film he (and his writer, the actor Wentworth Miller) has in fact given us a somewhat academic deconstruction of a Hitchcock-style suspense film.

Big difference.

 If you’re looking for thesis material “Stoker” is chock full of allusions, references and outright steals.

But for genuine suspense, go elsewhere.  Unlike Hitch, Park (whose best-known film in this country is probably the incest-and-savagery epic “Old Boy”) doesn’t allow us to identify with his characters. They might as well be specimens of exotic insects in glass jars.

Our heroine is high school senior India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska), whom we meet at the funeral of her beloved father, who has died in some sort of fiery car crash.

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