Tag Archives: Benedict Cumberbatch

[Trailer] – The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

19 Sep

This week is Tolkien Week, in which fans of J.R.R. Tolkien celebrate like crazy the birthdays of both Bilbo and Frodo Baggins. It’s also the one that this year marks the 75th anniversary of the publication of The Hobbit. So what better way to celebrate than with the premiere of a new trailer for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, which you can watch below.

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Best of 2011: 20 Supporting Actors

6 Feb

A whole month after 2011 ended I have wrapped up my yearly rankings, having seen 256 films released in 2011, granting 13 perfect A+ scores and a really superb 76 scores in the A range. To remember the year that was I thought I should start a feature that will hopefully become a yearly thing for me and do a few Best of 2011 posts, choosing my Top 20 films, directing efforts, screenplays, and performances (separated by lead male, lead female, supporting male and supporting female) and doing a post honoring them with a brief paragraph explaining what made each of those 20 options so remarkable and memorable and thus made 2011 a great year for films. For the fifth entry in the series of posts we have my Top 20 Performances by Supporting Actors of 2011:

20. GEORGE CLOONEY as Governor Mike Morris in The Ides of March

The Ides of March has been widely represented in my rankings (18th Film, 18th Screenplay, 13th Director, 13th Supporting Actress) and now George Clooney, after also getting mentions for his film, screenplay and directing, gets a shout-out for his performance as Governor Mike Morris, the idealistic and eco-friendly candidate of the political campaign at the center of the film. Mr. Clooney’s performance is great, because he knows what to do and don’t do with the role, and he’s just great at sparring with the rest of the insanely talented ensemble this film counts with, just having so many great actors around to play with is enough to make any performance be much better.

19. BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH as Peter Guillam in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy so far has been my #9 Film, #10 Director and #8 Screenplay, and in all three of those mentions I’ve said it was probably the smartest film of all 2011. I could have really chosen some other actors from this film, like Tom Hardy or Colin Firth, but I went with Benedict Cumberbatch, the star of BBC’s Sherlock who’s headed for great things, the stuff he does here with the role of Peter Guillam, the one agent at Circus the Gary Oldman’s Smiley can trust in, is just wonderful, bringing a lot of presence and magnetism to the screen.

18. ZACHARY QUINTO as Peter Sullivan in Margin Call

After making my Screenplay rankings (at #9) Margin Call gets a nod in this ranking because its whole ensemble is just supremely talented and brings a lot to the table. Zachary Quinto, best known for his role in Heroes and as Spock in the J.J. Abrams reboot of Star Trek, is Peter Sullivan here, a young analyst at a financial services firm that gets given a USB drive with data that anticipates the financial meltdown and kicks off the whole film. I think Quinto is a damn fine actor, and in a cast full of really great actors and performances, he managed to stand out because of what he brought to Peter.

17. PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN as Paul Zara in The Ides of March

Another mention for one of the Ides men, and you just know that Philip Seymour Hoffman in a politically-charged film surrounded with great actors would just throw it out of the park. And that’s exactly what he does in this film, especially since the source material was a stage play, and parts of the screenplay behave like a play as well, which means you have Mr. Hoffman as Paul Zara, the veteran campaign manager for Mr. Clooney’s character, delivering some lines that sound just like monologues taken right from the stage, and you can’t ask for much more than that, this whole film is a terrific showcase for actors.

16. VIGGO MORTENSEN as Sigmund Freud in A Dangerous Method

Viggo Mortensen is a hugely talented actor, we know that by now, and in David Cronenberg’s latest he goes against type to play Sigmund Freud. I say it’s going against type because when we think of him as Aragorn or fighting Russian mobsters while naked in a steam room, in here he’s engaging in really intellectual conversations and puffing cigars while portraying the father of psychoanalysis. I thought this unexpected casting really paid off though, with Mortensen bringing a charm and a humor to him, looking older and more refined than what he usually looks like in film; just great.

15. SETH ROGEN as Kyle in 50/50

My 19th Film, 6th Screenplay and 10th Supporting Actress performance (Anna Kednrick). Now Seth Rogen gets in this ranking thanks to a performance by him that saw him take quite a lot from his personal life: His best friend Will Reiser was diagnosed with cancer and he was with him every step of the way, he then wrote a script about his experience and Mr. Rogen stars as the character inspired by him. This is a career-best performance by Seth Rogen, the best performance he’s ever given by a clear mile, and the chemistry he has with Jonathan Gordon-Levitt is amazing, their rapport awesomely helping the film achieve the balance between funny and serious.

14. JOHN C. REILLY as Mr. Fitzgerald in Terri

John C. Reilly is one of the most incredibly versatile actors working today, and in Terri he’s working alongside Jacob Wysocki, a terrific new star, and the scenes they share with each other are a thing of awe, scenes that actually require some real communication between two characters, something easier said than done in today’s films. Mr. Reilly has nailed down this very unique brand of sad comedy in a way, and he uses that to perfection here to represent a huge range of emotion in his character.

13. ALAN RICKMAN as Professor Severus Snape in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2

My 13th favorite film of the year, and a performance that for a while fanboys like me were trying to campaign all the way to an Oscar nomination, to finally get the most profitable film franchise of all-time an Oscar nomination outside of the technical categories. That campaign may have failed, but after seven films in which his character was just shrouded in mystery and secrecy, that veil is finally lifted in this conclusion, Snape’s real agenda revealed, and that meant we got some moments of spectacular emotion from him, and Alan Rickman just nails every last one of them, getting us teary-eyed in a film that did just that more than once for me.

12. EZRA MILLER as Kevin in We Need to Talk About Kevin

There’s something about Ezra Miller’s performance here that is just simply chilling to watch as the demonic spawn, as the horrible son to Tilda Swinton’s Eva, as the kid that goes on to commit a horrible shooting spree at his school. What the young Mr. Miller brings to the table is terrific, getting to the deepest of layers of Kevin and just portraying this antagonistic relationship with his mother, going toe-to-toe with Ms. Swinton, that’s amazing to watch for all its intensity. This guy is headed for some really great things.

11. KENNETH BRANAGH as Sir Laurence Olivier in My Week with Marilyn

Kenneth Branagh was pretty much born to play Sir Laurence Olivier. You get the sense that the guy had been preparing for this role his whole life, and the little details he brings to his impersonation of him show that he indeed probably spent quite a lot of time studying the acting great. It’s obviously never easy stepping into the shoes of such an icon, but Mr. Branagh manages to show the more human and vulnerable side of him, doing it in a way that’s both funny and heartbreaking, holding your attention every second he’s on screen and just going at it with the insuperable Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe.

10. JEREMY IRONS as John Tuld in Margin Call

The second member of the terrific Margin Call ensemble in my rankings. And it’s Jeremy Irons, a great actor who hadn’t really been this good in quite some time, he gives such an overpowering performance that just eats up whoever else is on-screen with him as he plays John Tuld, the C.E.O. of the financial firm that’s headed for the crapper. You need a guy as experienced as Mr. Irons to play a guy like him, carrying himself with a coolness under dire straits, calmly assessing what he has to do in order to survive; and he’ll do anything. Just a brilliant performance.

9. NICK NOLTE as Paddy Conlon in Warrior

The main beef people are having with Nick Nolte’s performance in Warrior, which got him an Oscar nomination, is that it’s a typical Nick Nolte performance that he could do in his sleep by this point in a career that spans nearly four decades. But, so what? It’s also an undeniably great performance, and one that, alongside his role in HBO’s new TV show, Luck, seems to be injecting new blood into that career that seemed to be slowly and quietly dying. It’s a role that he could rock, for sure, his gravelly voice adding a lot to a man who’s broken; you just know that Mr. Nolte took a lot from his own life experience to portray the guilt that consumes Paddy, battling an old alcoholic past he can’t turn to now to find solace.

8. JOHN HAWKES as Patrick in Martha Marcy May Marlene

From my #10 Film with my #14 Director and #13 Screenplay of the year, comes the supporting turn by the great John Hawkes also making a ranking of mine. After finally breaking out big with his Oscar-nominated turn in Winter’s Bone, here he gives yet another chilling performance as Patrick, the leader of a cult in upstate New York. He brings a lot to this role, just his eyes give this role a magnetism it needed, because you can see how this character is someone that you could grow to love and trust, how he’d seduce you into following him and joining his cult, Mr. Hawkes is such a tremendous actor that you believe him of being, both emotionally and intellectually, able to carry of such a psychological manipulation.

7. ANDY SERKIS as Caesar in Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Yes, that’s right, I’m firmly in the Andy Serkis bandwagon. People were trying a lot to campaign him to an Oscar nod for his role in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, with the one catch being that Mr. Serkis doesn’t actually appear in the flesh in the entire film. Instead, he gives a motion-capture performance, showing how amazing the technology he helped pioneer in The Lord of the Rings movies and King Kong can really be. And this is acting no matter what purists may say, his performance as Caesar steals the show from every human actor here, how he plays out the evolution of Caesar, from a small chimp to an ape that leads a revolution against humans, is amazing, and how convincing and moving his facial expressions and movements can be is a wonder to behold. Welcome to the future.

6. COREY STOLL as Ernest Hemingway in Midnight in Paris

Another film with mentions in all my rankings so far (#14 Film, #8 Director, #9 Supporting Actress and #1 Screenplay) and the performance by Corey Stoll as Ernest Hemingway is just sheer genius, it’s just an insanely memorable and effective performance from Mr. Stoll as the literary legend. Woody Allen obviously did an amazing job at bringing to life lots of legendary icons, but Hemingway stands out, speaking just like he writes and acted by Mr. Stoll with an unbelievable intensity. Just take a look at the scene in which he explains to Gil why he won’t read his manuscript and try not to be in love by this role and this performance.

5. BEN KINGSLEY as Georges Méliès in Hugo

Another film making it into all of my rankings (#1 Film, #1 Director, #11 Supporting Actress and #11 Screenplay). The performance by Ben Kingsley really should have gotten him an Oscar nomination, as Méliès he brings to life a legend of film history, now as a grumpy old man, pretty much broke, running a toy shop at a Paris train station, under the impression that all of the brilliant work he left behind to the world has been forgotten with him. This whole film is bursting through the seams with passion and love by Martin Scorsese, and the job Mr. Kingsley does is spectacular, there some scenes in which he’s just heartbreakingly good.

4. JONAH HILL as Peter Brand in Moneyball

Yes, the words “Academy Award nominee” now go before the name of Jonah Hill, and it’s actually a deserved recognition. His performance in Moneyball (my #7 Film, #9 Director and #4 Screenplay) is just outstanding, kind of groundbreaking inasmuch as that he has never done anything even remotely like this before, and he shows he really does have some dramatic chops in him as Peter Brand, the numbers guy brought in to help save the Oakland A’s. Going toe-to-toe with Brad Pitt and creating some really awesome chemistry between the two of them to make for a masterful film. I really didn’t know Mr. Hill had this in him.

3. PATTON OSWALT as Matt Freehauf in Young Adult

The only good thing about Patton Oswalt having been stupidly snubbed out of an Oscar nomination is the made-up story he started telling on Twitter about him and the other snub-ees forming a club and partying. Because honestly, he really deserved a nomination for his role in Young Adult (my #12 Film, #15 Director and #3 Screenplay) as Matt Freehauf the old classmate of Charlize Theron’s Mavis Gary whom she unexpectedly strikes up a connection with. Considering our lead character is a pretty unlikable woman, the film actually depends on Mr. Oswalt quite a bit because we as an audience need some we can sympathize to and relate to, and he just nails every single frame he’s in.

2. CHRISTOPHER PLUMMER as Hal Fields in Beginners

Christopher Plummer is an absolute lock to win the Best Supporting Actor Oscar unless Max von Sydow stupidly manages to deny him of his long overdue right to call himself an Academy Award winner. His work on Beginners (also appearing on my rankings as my #15 Supporting Actress and #5 Screenplay) is just a sheer joy to watch, as an old man who, after the death of his wife, comes out of the closet and decides to live the twilight of his life as an active gay man. The bond that forms between him and his son (played by Ewan McGregor) during this stage of his life is amazing, and just how carefully Mr. Plummer crafts this role is amazing, bring a lot of presence to the screen and stealing every scene he’s in with his charm and iconic voice.

1. ALBERT BROOKS as Bernie Rose in Drive

Another film that’s been in all my rankings so far (#4 Film, #2 Director, #6 Supporting Actress and #16 Screenplay), and this time it gets a #1 nod for one of the most horrible and unforgivable Oscar snubs in recent memory. He plays a role that’s unlike anything you’d imagine from him, a bad guy in a movie full of them, but he gives Bernie Rose this sense of charisma and empathy that really gets you to be enthralled by this guy who you know means no good. This is an absolutely perfect performance, I really mean that, and I’m still mad about him not getting an Oscar nod.

Those are my Top 20 performances by actors in supporting roles. 4 of the Oscar nominees made it into my rankings (Max von Sydow was the one that didn’t), but were I to ran the actual Oscars only Plummer and Hill would’ve gotten nominations. Hopefully Plummer will continue his road to the golden man with as much as ease as he’s had in the precursor awards, which should be especially easy now that he (somehow, stupidly) doesn’t have to contend against Brooks.

War Horse

29 Dec

Title: War Horse
Year: 2011
Director: Steven Spielberg
Writers: Lee Hall and Richard Curtis, based on the novel by Michael Morpurgo
Starring: Jeremy Irvine, Emily Watson, Peter Mullan, David Thewlis, Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Hiddleston
MPAA Rating: PG-13, intense sequences of war violence
Runtime: 146 min
IMDb Rating: 7.4
Rotten Tomatoes: 76%
Metacritic: 72

 

The Oscar nomination ballots were mailed out to members of the Academy just a couple of days ago, and in the big race people are saying that it’s going to come down to a fight between this film, The Artist, and The Descendants, with the French black-and-white film having the edge. I’d have no problem with either The Artist or The Descendants taking it, I’ve given them both perfect grades, they currently sit as my fourth and seventh favorite films of the year, respectively, they’re both pretty damn masterful. War Horse, I’m kind of disappointed to say, isn’t a perfect film. It is, however, still damn great.

The film obviously had huge expectations, it started out as the front-runner for every awards race simply based on the pedigree: It has Steven Spielberg, a director beloved by the Academy who already has three Oscars (2 for directing, for Saving Private Ryan and Schindler’s List, and the other for producing the latter), and it has him directing a film that will make you cry no matter what, a film about war, and a film about men. By which I mean, it has every single thing a Best Picture needs to walk away with the top trophy. However, coming in with such huge expectations always means the only place to go is down. That’s not why I don’t think War Horse isn’t perfect, since it never seemed like my personal cup of tea so I wasn’t holding it to such high standards, it’s just that I loved bits of it, and others didn’t do it for me. When the film was a down-and-dirty war epic, I loved it, some of the best minutes of film of the whole year done by the guy that does them best. But the lighter side to it, the family side just didn’t do it for me, even though I cried during much of it. I cried, yes, and you will, too, the score by John Williams is too emotionally manipulative to leave a dry eye in the room.

Plus, this is Steven Spielberg, people. Nobody, and I mean nobody, does this kind of stuff better than him, Saving Private Ryan‘s opening is still the definitive scene of wartime, the close-ups he makes on people’s faces to tug at your heartstrings always work, the guy is a master filmmaker for a reason, one of the greatest there’s ever been, for some people arguably the greatest. The control he has over his craft, the incredible level of artistry present in every single frame of this film is a thing of beauty. And in War Horse you have Mr. Spielberg playing at being John Ford a little bit (another thing that will make Oscar drool for this), showing us a film that’s not as edgy a look at war as Saving Private Ryan, but one that reflects stuff we’ve seen before, and displays it with an unfaltering sense of sincerity, which brings forth a lot of hugely sentimental moments, some of them quite earned, others not so much, but it still hits home in all the ways you might imagine with such a legend behind the director’s chair.

I think every person that really loves movies will love War Horse because of that, because it’s so reminiscent of those great films of a half-century ago, with hugely enchanting colors and emotions made to swell up even more behind such a powerful score by Mr. Williams, a five-time Oscar winner and loyal collaborator of Mr. Spielberg’s. This is such a Spielberg film, you have to be happy just to have this guy back, I mean I saw The Adventures of Tintin, his foray into motion-capture technology, two days ago, and it was an incredible film (I gave it an A-) and had a lot of his Raiders of the Lost Ark days, but this is a Spielberg film where tears abound and in which, amidst all the war going around, you know the man will always give you the happiest ending possible to make you smile at the end. And then you’ll cry a little more.

Even if you’re like me and this isn’t a perfect movie to you, you can’t deny that this one works like gangbusters. It works seeing a director like Steven Spielberg kind of paying homage to many directors that came before him, giving us an epic and uplifting film that will appeal to every single demographic, a film that’s not afraid about wearing a lot of heart on its sleeve, a film that’s well acted by a really dependable ensemble, and a film that technically is a supreme achievement by everybody involved. War Horse works, people, don’t try to deny it, no one can tell you what to feel and how to feel like Steven Spielberg can.

The movie is based on both a children’s book and a stage production that’s been hugely successful and renowned for how it acts out the horses from some really well-used puppets. And as it opens we’re in a small family farm in Devon, where Jeremy Irvine’s lead character, Albert, lives with his dad, a nice type of drunk, but drunk nevertheless, and mom, who’s just lovely, played by Peter Mullan and Emily Watson, respectively. And there’s a horse auction going on, in which the father sees a really handsome horse, and manages to outbid his landowner, Lyons, played by David Thewlis, to whom he owes money for it, going back home to his wife’s shock that he has spend all of the rent money for a thoroughbred when what they needed was a cheap plow horse. Albert, however, forms an immediate bond with the horse, Joey, and trains him to put on a collar and plow the fields. Until one day, as World War I breaks out, his father, drunk again, sells the horse to the Army, Albert making a promise that he would see his equine friend again someday.

We then get to see what it was like for Joey during wartime, what it was like for him and the other horses thrown into a horrible kind of chaos, confused and scared, as Steven Spielberg gives us some scenes that do act like the savage scenes in Saving Private Ryan as far as the intensity they present on-screen, but that still feel very family-friendly. The shots Mr. Spielberg gives us as we follow Joey’s journey are truly something, showing us that when there’s a war going on these animals are seen as weapons that must be used, and showing us how the horses respond to this, not knowing what’s going on, running wild outside the trenches, going through barbed wire. Of course no real horses were actually hurt in these scenes, but when you’re seeing it take place you hurt profoundly for Joey and his friends, it’s a pretty damn agonizing view, incredibly realized by the only director that could do it like that.

Like I said, I loved these bits, the war bits, they were spectacular, amongst the best scenes Mr. Spielberg has ever given us, which is saying quite a bit, but it also means that Joey, and not Albert, is the one that’s carrying the narrative thread with him, and he’s a horse, and as many unbelievable things as Mr. Spielberg does with him here, there’s only so much a horse can do. But still, there’s no denying the emotion here, some will have a hard time giving into such huge amounts of sappiness, I can relate because I was there for a second, but then I realized that this was too much a majestic film not to give myself to it. So I could handle that emotion, I could handle the boy speaking clichés to his horse with a straight face, and you should too, because the pay-off by Mr. Spielberg is more than worth it.

War Horse isn’t my Best Picture winner, it’s only just a Top 40 film of the year for me, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a worthy winner of that prize come Oscar night. Sure, I liked The Artist and The Descendants much more amongst its competition, but the stuff this film does is unbelievable, I fault this film because it wasn’t perfect, because I wanted a superior Spielberg, because I wanted just a tad less saccharine, more restraint; but mid-level Spielberg is still a beauty to behold, the war scenes are amazing, and the emotions it brings to the surface are outstanding. That really should be more than enough, it’s a film that’s just perfectly flawed.

Grade: A-

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

25 Dec

Title: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Year: 2011
Director: Tomas Alfredson
Writers: Bridget O’Connor and Peter Straughan, based on the novel by John le Carré
Starring: Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, John Hurt, Toby Jones, Mark Strong, Benedict Cumberbatch, Ciarán Hinds, David Dencik
MPAA Rating: R, violence, some sexuality/nudity and language
Runtime: 127 min
IMDb Rating: 7.7
Rotten Tomatoes: 85%
Metacritic: 87

That Gary Oldman hasn’t even been nominated for an Oscar is pretty hard to believe. The man is one of the best working actors, beloved by peers, critics and audiences alike and he hasn’t gotten any kind of recognition by the Academy. The performance he gives in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy should be enough to earn him at least a nomination, even though after being snubbed by the SAG and Globes it looks as though he’s a darkhorse contender for the fifth slot, but hell, even if no recognition comes from the Academy, his performance is still one of the year’s very best, in a film that’s also amongst the year’s elite, an espionage film that’s really smart, intricately plotted, acted by some of the very best British actors, and masterfully directed by Tomas Alfredson in his first stab at an English-language film after breaking out with Let the Right One In in 2008, which was my eighth favorite film of that whole year, how skillfully he gets this whole thing together, bringing out a sense of vivid paranoia as he starts putting together this intricate puzzle, is just amazing to watch, he just knows how to create a gripping atmosphere.

The film is, of course, an adaptation of John le Carre’s classic 1974 spy novel of the same name, which had already been made into a seven-part television series with Alec Guiness taking on the role of George Smiley back in the late seventies, and it’s really neat to be back in this world, and to now have Mr. Oldman wearing the iconic glasses, every little thing about Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy feels exactly like it should, the images, the sounds, everything is just right. What’s great is that Mr. Alfredson and his cast and crew never underestimate us as an audience, they give it to us thinking that we’re smart enough to keep up with it, and yes, you’ll have to pay attention to this film in order to really get into it, but trust me when I say it’s well worth it. Not to mention that he really keeps true to the spirit of the novel, he doesn’t try to make stuff in the film ring true in today’s world, he’s just comfortable in showing us the world Mr. le Carré designed, a precise moment in time during the 20th century in a world that was ran by men, always knowing how to thicken his atmosphere for a chilling effect.

It’s that bleak atmosphere that keeps the pulse of this one beating a really steady pace, and it’s part of what makes you watch this film so intently, it’s what makes those quiet conversations so damn compelling to watch. George Smiley, unlike what his name would suggest, isn’t a guy that doesn’t smile all that much, he sits around, observant, waiting for his enemies to come to him or make a big mistake and make it easy for him to catch them. The whole film is incredibly intriguing, there are mysteries within the mysteries, and it’s all plotted like an expertly-made labyrinth for us to try and follow. The head of The Circus, which is the name given to the MI6 here, a man called Control who’s played really well by John Hurt, is under the impression that there’s a mole within the agency’s elite members. Control, along with Smily, however, botches up a mission in Budapest and the two are let go. Smiley is then later taken out of his retirement, brought back into the fold, undercover, with the task of finding out who that mole is, who’s selling them out to the Soviets. Consider this, the main suspects of being the mole are played by Colin Firth, Toby Jones, Ciarán Hinds and David Dencik. Like I said, this is a dream cast.

The whole world presented in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is all about the secrets and the lies and where loyalties lie. This obviously isn’t a seven-part series like the one the BBC did over three decades ago, but Mr. Alfredson is a brilliant director, using the two hours he got to perfectly represent the novel, using great imagery, the great faces and body language of his actors to say things that would normally take minutes of dialogue to express, it’s his attention to the little details, and the talents of his amazing cast that make this one not miss a single beat and spell out a truly remarkable story. And then there’s Mr. Oldman, one of the finest working actors, playing a lead character who doesn’t utter a word until nearly twenty minutes into the film, playing Smiley in a brilliantly nuanced way, showing us so much just with his eyes and his voice, it’s a masterclass in acting, and the fact that he got such an unbelievable team of co-stars to spar with is magnificent, the scenes in which he gets to trade off lines with Mr. Firth are a marvel to watch.

What’s great is there’s always something going on this film that we don’t know about, spies spying on spies, with Smiley working under tips provided to him by a rogue agent named Ricki Tarr, who’s played by Tom Hardy, an actor that’s headed for greatness, and with the help of one of the agents in Circus he can trust, Peter Guillam, who’s played by Benedict Cumberbatch, the guy in charge of playing the titular character in Steven Moffat’s Sherlock for the BBC. Like I said, there are only great, great actors in this film.

What’s great is that while it’s obviously incredibly fun to watch the whole labyrinth unfold bit by bit, paying attention just to keep up, it’s also amazing what goes on behind the actual spy stuff the plots gives us, a tale of men that find themselves lonely and desperate in a really dark world. It’s incredible to see what living a life like this can do to someone, to men that love their country and that are consumed by secrets in a world in which knowledge means power, secrets that they can’t even utter to themselves for fear of having them heard.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is amongst the year’s very best films, my tenth perfect grade of the year, a film that will make audiences try hard in order to keep up with the many twists it takes, and if you cant’ keep up with the many characters and events then you’ll get lost and not really enjoy this one as much. But trust me, make the effort to keep up and you’ll see that Tomas Alfredson has expertly crafted one of the best espionage films of the past couple of decades, it’s one of the finest directing works of the year. The cast is all brilliant, igniting every single scene and making you really interested in this whole thing, and at the center of it all you have a screen icon, delivering a masterfully understated performance, playing a hero that isn’t really all that likable and not really doing all that much to humanize him, just playing him to perfection, showing us that he deserves that long overdue invite to the big dance.

Grade: A+

The Whistleblower

3 Sep

Title: The Whistleblower
Year: 
2011
Director: 
Larysa Kondracki
Writers: Larysa Kondracki and Eilis Kirwan
Starring: 
Rachel Weisz, Vanessa Redgrave, Benedict Cumberbatch, David Strathairn, Monica Bellucci
MPAA Rating: 
R, disturbing violent content including a brutal sexual assault, graphic nudity and language
Runtime: 
112 min
Major Awards: –

IMDb Rating: 
7.2
Rotten Tomatoes: 
72%

I’m a huge fan of Rachel Weisz, I think she can be seriously tremendous when she wants to, and as such The Whistleblower seemed like a great film to see, one that put her front and center in a rather meaty kind of role I was sure she was definitely capable of rocking. And boy was I right, Ms. Weisz gives a riveting performance here, one of her best ever actually, and she’s the one that elevates the film to whatever heights it ultimately reaches. Though, to be honest, the film itself was probably a bit too straight-forward for my liking, and, good as it may have been, I believe a better approach to this great story could have potentially made her soar even higher.

Because, really, the film’s tone sometimes misses the mark, the human drama that’s beating at its core is sometimes used too much as melodramatic material, and at times it goes off into a very sort of preachy area that just didn’t work for me, and it certainly could have been handled in a better way. But the fact of the matter is that even though The Whistleblower could have probably been a better movie, it still has that undeniably great lead performance to keep it solid, to ground it and not let whatever mishaps may have occurred veer it off the road, and in the end that’s really more than enough, because the film itself is a huge success if only just because of that terrific acting showcase by Ms. Weisz.

The film is based on the true story of Kathryn Bolkovac, a Nebraska cop who agrees to join the U.N. as a peacekeeper in post-war Bosnia. What transpires when she goes there is that she uncovers evidence of a profitable sex trafficking operation involving underage girls that were being bought and sold in the region, and the U.N. was covering it all up, ignoring her when she presented them the evidence. So from a woman who was going into a devastated area to help with the rebuilding of a nation, she gets to be in the middle of a corrupt net full of intrigue and cover-ups happening by the very same multinational she was working for, and as such The Whistleblower becomes this pretty satisfying corporate thriller because of how effectively Ms. Weisz is at playing Kathryn.

So, you see, The Whistleblower is certainly a film that will be able to fill you up with rage over what went on, it’s obviously a pretty incendiary topic that lends itself to a great deal of emotional response that Ms. Weisz is so perfect at conveying with her performance, and as such the gritty backdrop of a post-war Bosnia also serves to give the film a pretty great and compelling feel. The firm responsible for the atrocities in question was a private security firm working there at the time, and that’s apparently still employed by the U.S. government even today, but Kathryn starts discovering that while they were the ones igniting the whole chain of monstrosities, the local police and other U.N. peacemakers like herself were also deeply involved, and you kind of get angry about how so many people could be aware of such a horrible ordeal and do pretty much nothing against it, it’s really unbelievable to think that high-ranking officials of the U.N. were aware of such a thing.

Maybe first-time writer-director Larysa Kondracki’s lack of experience is to blame for the fact that the film itself wasn’t as gripping as it could and should have been (though the script was certainly well-researched), but I think she should still be applauded for the performance she got out of Ms. Weisz, or at the very least the performance she didn’t get in the way of this great actress delivering. Because this whole film is one big and incredible Rachel Weisz show, it’s a truly bracing performance, emotionally connected to her very core to the story she was telling, the quiet intensity she brings to the role of Kathryn as she witnesses all of these horrible events is tremendous to watch unfold.

Because horrible is the right word for all that she sees, and the film does a neat job at not shying away from that, showing Kathryn going to these clubs where underage girls were exhibited, threatened and eventually sold to people who would do as they pleased with them, and Ms. Kondracki really does deliver a few sequences that are definitely a bit hard to watch. And it’s good, it really is, the fact that I keep saying that I didn’t love this film as much I could have doesn’t come from the fact that it had elements I didn’t like, but from it missing some which I wanted it to have, it needed a quicker pace, it needed to have some sort of building tension that would really have made it be an excellent political thriller, instead of just a very good one.

I do recommend The Whistleblower quite a lot though, it may be missing a thing or two which I desperately wanted it to have, but the fact that I wanted so badly for it to be better while I watched came from the fact that there was so much already there that was playing so great. Especially the performances, the supporting cast includes the legendary Vanessa Redgrave, David Strathairn, Monica Bellucci and Benedict Cumberbatch, all seriously great actors. And then there’s Ms. Weisz, who made a great decision to play Kathryn not so much as a heroine, but just as a cop who still does her job by the book, and that approach did all the difference, as she churned one of the better performances in her already-outstanding resumé, she alone is more than worth the price of admission for this one.

Grade: B+

Creation

30 Mar

Title: Creation
Year: 2009
Director: Jon Amiel
Writer: John Collee
Starring: Paul Bettany, Jennifer Connelly, Jeremy Northam, Toby Jones, Benedict Cumberbatch
MPAA Rating: PG-13, some intense thematic material
Runtime: 108 min
Major Awards:
IMDb Rating: 6.8
Rotten Tomatoes: 46%

Creation has real-life spouses Bettany and Connelly play husband and wife on-screen as they tackle the roles of Charles and Emma Darwin, and even though Amiel’s directing eye is splendid, and Bettany’s performance is nothing short of spectacular the film as a whole lacks the fire one needs from these biopics for them to really stand out.

I’m not crazy about this film, were it not for Bettany’s performance I would have probably ended up saying kind of bad things about it. But alas, Bettany is there, I love this guy’s work, go on to read every review I’ve ever done about a movie he’s been in and you’ll find praise for his performance even if the film sucked, and in Creation it’s no different.

He plays Charles Darwin, perhaps the most important scientist in history, he who created the theory of natural selection, effectively defining evolution and changing the way the world thought. At the time he had his fair share of challengers, it was, after all, the middle of the 19th century and the Church had a huge say in things, and offering the theory Darwin offered would obviously get you an opponent or two.

Emma, his wife, was one of those people that was with the church, she thought God had created men, and didn’t believe what her own husband was proposing. The film exposes how Darwin’s discoveries challenged his marriage, a marriage which lasted over five decades and spawned ten children.

I quite like biopics, but the problem with them, especially when it deals with such a heavy subject matter, is that it goes all Hollywood on them and dramatizes an element to draw in audiences and looses the essence of the story. In Creation it dramatizes the romantic side of it all and loses the scientific part, I’m no science geek and I quite like my romance, but still, it robs the film of something.

I like though how the film portrayed the inner battles Darwin had upon considering going public with his findings, delaying its publication so as to avoid the turmoil it would cause, but finally opting to reveal it because the world had to know what he knew, Amiel tackles this side of the story beautifully, with enough depth so that we can feel for him, but showing some restraint so that we don’t get caught up in it all and can pay attention to the other side of the story, problem is the other side of the story isn’t that well developed.

Creation in the end fails to illustrate the life of Darwin as we wanted it to be shown, it’s not an entirely illuminating portrait of the man, it is a decent drama about a conflicting man and his wife but it fails to shine a light on the deep history that lies behind it, and I want biopics to do that. But nevertheless, it boasts a solid direction and a tremendous performance, and that makes it more than bearable.

Grade: C+