Posts Tagged ‘Taron Edgerton’

Taron Edgerton

“TETRIS” My rating: B  (Apple+)

118 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Capitalist opportunism goes nose-to-nose with Communist purity in “Tetris,” a based-on-fact comedy-thriller about the origins of what may very well be the world’s most ubiquitous video game. 

Spoiler: The Commies lose.

In Jon S. Baird’s diverting recreation of events, Taron Edgerton stars as Hank Rogers, a real-life video game developer and marketer who in the late ‘80s was introduced to Tetris, a computer game in which players had to manipulate falling geometric forms to create solid lines that generated points.  

Rogers realized the game was utterly addictive and foresaw a huge market.  Just a few problems.

Rights to the game in the West were, well, unclear.  Several companies claimed them, but apparently none had actually finalized a deal with the USSR, where the game was born.  The  Soviet state claimed ownership of every invention of any of its citizens, among them the genius behind the game, programmer Alexey Pajitnov (Nikita Efremov).

Noah Pink’s screenplay follows Hank Rogers as he travels to Moscow to buy Tetris from the government.  His quest is complicated because there are other Westerners bidding on the game, among them fly-by-nighter Robert Stein (Toby Jones), Brit media mogul Robert Maxwell (Roger Allam)  and Maxwell’s insufferable (think Donald Trump Jr.) son Kevin (Anthony Boyle).  

Things are no less frantic among the Russians.  The honest bureaucrat ostensibly in charge of negotiations (Oleg Stefan) is continually undermined by politicians and their KGB minions expecting the collapse of the Soviet state; they are determined to build their own nest eggs on the back of Tetris.

The film is at its best when Hank must rely on his instincts and wits to penetrate the quagmire of Soviet bureaucracy. (At one point Soviet premiere Mikhail Gorbachov steps in deus ex machine-style.) It’s less effective when dealing with his domestic situation (wife and kids who want Daddy back home).

Also noteworthy is the film’s mirroring of plot points in the Oscar-winning “Argo,” especially the notion of a Westerner on a dangerous mission in a totalitarian state and a last-minute escape on a commercial aircraft.

Despite its slow-building tension, “Tetris” is often drolly funny. But making the show irresistibly playful are the many nods to first-generation video gaming.  The film’s various chapters are introduced with the same chunky graphics that marked early ‘80s video games; at one point during a car chase through Moscow the vehicles begin pixellating and become cartoon versions of themselves.

Nothing earth-shaking here. Just a good time.

| Robert W. Butler

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Lu is Partridge as Sid Vicious, Anson Boon as Johnny Rotten

“Pistol”  (Hulu): I never cared much for the angry artlessness of the Sex Pistols. Even so, one must admit that for a band that existed for less than three years, these Brit oafs made an indelible impression on rock ‘n’ roll.

The miniseries “Pistol” was created and largely written by Craig Pearce, frequent collaborator (“Moulin Rouge,” “The Great Gatsby” “Elvis“) of fellow Aussie Baz Luhrman. 

Danny Boyle (“Trainspotting,” “Slumdog Millionaire,” “Steve Jobs”) directed all six episodes, and is undoubtedly the single biggest factor in the show’s successful nailing of the punk scene.  Even for those who have no taste for the music, “Pistol” brilliantly presents — through camera angles, film stock, editing, set and costume design and especially some brilliant acting — the environment that birthed that rebellious genre.

It’s a social history lesson presented on a scale that is both epic and intimate. Not to mention overflowing with nervous energyl

After watching this series I finally understood the band’s importance.  (And it wasn’t for their music.)

The source material is Lonely Boy, the 2016 memoir by Steve Jones, the band’s guitarist and ostensible leader. Toby Wallace approaches the role of Jones with equal parts sex appeal, inner intelligence and outer oafishness. In the mid-70s he was on his way to becoming a career criminal when he drew the attention of  clothing shop entrepreneur Malcolm McLaren (a stone-cold brilliant Thomas Brodie-Sangster), an erudite and foppish hustler who avows anarchy but is at heart a voracious capitalist.

It is this Svengali’s idea to start a band with which to promote his clothing boutique, SEX.  Thus the birth of the Sex Pistols, an ensemble initially possessing few musical skills but exhibiting a full tank of rage, contempt  and ironic detachment.

As lead singer John ”Johnny Rotten” Lydon Anson Boon commands his every scene like a snarling feral rat.  Johnny is an insufferable asshole but don’t accuse him of duplicity; he’s just as snide, repellant and bitter in real life as in the spotlight. Later they’re joined by heroin-soaked Sid Vicious (Luis Partridge), who cares much more about getting his hair right than hitting the proper notes.

All the high (and low) points of the Pistols saga is on display here — the bad behavior, eyebrow-raising encounters with Britain’s staid media, drugs and drink.  In a sense it’s a predictable rise-and-fall-of-a-rock-band saga, but the details turn it into something truly memorable.

The series has a superb and expansive cast of supporting players, including Sydney Chandler as Jones’ Ohio-born squeeze Chrissie (the final episode delivers a forehead-slapping reveal: she is the future Chrissie Hynde of “Pretenders” fame);  Emma Appleton as Sid’s maddening groupie-with-a-vengance American muse and needle partner Nancy Spungen, and Maisie Williams (yes, GOT’s Arya Stark) as a punk fashion icon so buried beneath spiky hair and garish face paint that I didn’t recognize her until I read the cast list. 

Paul Walter Hauser, Taron Egerton

“Black Bird”  (Apple +): This prison drama from Dennis Lehane (“Mystic River”) features possibly the finest acting now available on streaming.

And, no, I’m not exaggerating.

Taron Egerton (“Kingsman,” “Rocketman”) does a complete transformation to get into the skin of Jimmy Keene, a swaggering real-life crook and lady’s man who after his conviction for drug distribution agreed to go undercover in a prison for mental cases.  

He was offered a full pardon if he could get a confession — or at least compelling evidence — of the crimes of fellow inmate Larry Hall (Paul Walter Hauser), who is being held for the murder of a young girl but in fact may have a dozen or more victims across several states.

There are the usual prison pic tropes at work here…Jimmy must negotiate a dangerous inmate heirarchy (Tony Amendola is chilling as a Mafia don who quietly rules the roost),  corrupt guards and other scary stuff.  Moreover, Jmmy cannot reveal his secret mission, meaning he’ll get no help from the prison administration and will have to survive by his own wits.

While a couple of cops (Greg Kinnear, Sepideh Moafi) work the case from the outside, Jimmy must befriend Hall, a muttonchopped mountain who talks in a soft childish voice and is infuriatingly slow to reveal much about himself. Hauser, who was terrific as one of the goons in “I, Tonya” and the star of Clint Eastwood’s “Richard Jewell,” smashes this one out of the park. Comparisons to Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal Lecter are appropriate.

There’s also a heartbreaking subplot involving Jimmy’s father, a broken-down ex-cop played by the late Ray Lotta in his last film role.

Ultimately it comes down to an acting duel between Hall as a quietly terrifying psychopath and Egerton as a wiseass egotist who undergoes a near-total mental/emotional meltdown under the pressures of his assignment.

| Robert W. Butler

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