Tag Archives: Helen Mirren

[Oscars 2013] – Predicting The Nominations

9 Jan

An actual Oscar statuette to be presented during the 79th Annual Academy Awards sits in a display case in Hollywood

I still have a few 2013 releases to catch up with, and I though I wanted to make my Oscar nominations predictions post having seen all of them, the nods are due early tomorrow morning so I’ll have to post them now.

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[Review] – Hitchcock

4 Dec

Hitchcock

Title: Hitchcock
Year: 2012
Director: Sacha Gervasi
Writer: John J. McLaughlin, based on the book by Stephen Rebello
Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, Scarlett Johansson, Toni Collette, Danny Huston, Jessica Biel, James D’Arcy, Michael Stuhlbarg
MPAA Rating: PG-13, some violent images, sexual content and thematic material
Runtime: 98 min
IMDb Rating: 7.3
Rotten Tomatoes: 64%
Metacritic: 56

Alfred Hitchcock is, as we all know, one of the all-time great directors in the history of film. You don’t need me to tell you that, you’ve seen the movies that speak for themselves, or maybe you’ve even read the books about him. Maybe one of those books you read was Stephen Rebello‘s Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho, which chronicled every little aspect of the 1960 all-time classic that introduced us to Norman Bates. This film, aptly titled Hitchcock, adapts that book and sees every little thing about the making of Psycho, focussing especially on the relationship between the Master of Suspense and Alma Reville, his wife and partner.

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[Trailer] – Hitchcock

10 Oct

A few weeks ago it was announced that Sacha Gervasi‘s Hitchcock would be premiering this year just in time to make a run at some awards glory. To help its case there’s a trailer out for it now which you can watch after the cut.

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The Debt

3 Oct

Title: The Debt
Year: 
2011
Director: 
John Madden
Writers: Matthew Vaughn, Jane Goldman and Peter Straughan, based on the 2007 Israeli film written by Assaf Bernstein and Ido Rosenblum
Starring: 
Helen Mirren, Sam Worthington, Jessica Chastain, Ciarán Hinds, Tom Wilkinson, Marton Csokas, Jesper Christensen
MPAA Rating: 
R, some violence and language
Runtime: 
113 min
Major Awards: –

IMDb Rating: 
7.2
Rotten Tomatoes: 
78%

The talent that assembled for The Debt was enough to get me excited about it, the director is John Madden, who directed Shakespeare in Love which I love; the screenplay, based on an Israeli film, was done by Peter Staughan, who did The Men Who Stare at Goats as well as the much-hyped upcoming adaptation of John le Carré’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, and by writer/director Matthew Vaughn and his usual writing partner Jane Goldman, who together have written the scripts for Mr. Vaughn’s amazing Stardust and Kick-Ass, as well as the one for his superhero entry, this year’s X-Men: First Class, which I have still to see. And the on-screen talent included proven veterans like Helen Mirren, Tom Wilkinson and Ciarán Hinds, as well as up-and-comers like Sam Worthington and the ubiquitous Jessica Chastain, who’s having the most unbelievable year thanks to her turns in the masterpiece that was The Tree of Life, the crowd-pleaser The Help, this film, and the upcoming Coriolanus, Take Shelter and Wilde Salome (yes, she’s in every other awesome-looking film this year). So yes, I was psyched about The Debt.

And it really ended up being a fantastic film, one of the most solid entries in this sort of genre I’ve seen in a while, just very smartly-written and terrifically acted by the amazing cast, this gets to be just a very taut and successful spy thriller, the likes of which we really need more of nowadays. It was just an amazingly well crafted film, and through its many twists and turns you have Ms. Mirren or Ms. Chastain there to guide you through its intricate plot structure which uses a time-shifting narrative in a way I thought was just very neat as we get a decades-spanning espionage story dealing with an Israeli-Nazi score settling. In that way we get a film that’s very interested in how the truths of the past can be either amped up or dialed down by the situations of the present, and delves into the psychological and ethical complexities that many times lie within a person that has been presented as a hero.

And so Mr. Madden takes us through a story that shifts between a dark apartment in East Berlin in the mid-sixties and the bright city of Tel Aviv over three decades after that. And what we get is great, as we see the story of Mossad secret agent Rachel Singer, portrayed by Ms. Chastain during the bits set in the past and by Ms. Mirren in the present-day ones. It’s her story that drives this film the most, the one that has the key to all of the problems it poses, but it’s also the rest of the amazing cast that serve up a story full of deception that will really leave you eager to follow this one through its intricate maze. What happens is that the what happened in that Cold War-era Berlin made heroes of the three Mossad agents that were there to capture a Nazi fugitive, and three decades later the daughter of Singer and her ex-husband Stephan Gold, who was also part of the heroic trio, has written a book about their exploits, making her mother seem like some sort of courageous woman who did what had to be done in times of extreme pressure.

At the launch party for said book we see Rachel as played by Ms. Mirren sporting a grim that shows that her memories about the time that cemented her as a hero aren’t precisely something she really likes to think back upon all that much. And so the film starts hinting at all sorts of mysteries and elements of intrigue that it effectively starts developing through flashbacks that give us insight into the real story, and when the third member of the team, David, arrives, we get a hint that there’s much more to what meets the eye, and we go backwards and then forwards again, learning more and more about the secrets that abound in this story and the consequences these have had in the people involved.

I won’t spoil some of the flashbacks or the twists, that’s for you to experience when you go see The Debt, just rest assured that even though some of the turns this one takes are super ambitious, they’re always executed to perfection by a cast and crew that are tremendously skilled at what they do, with Mr. Madden keeping both timelines moving like crazy at a great pace going forward to their inevitable and climatic clash, with a cinematography by Ben Davis (who also did Kick-Ass and Stardust for Mr. Vaughn) that’s beautiful and with a cast full of people that are just amazing. I mean, seriously, Ms. Chastain and Ms. Mirren at times actually seem like they’re playing different characters and not the same person, and even though that can be problematic, it doesn’t take away from the individual achievements of their specific performances, Ms. Mirren playing a more stoic version of a character that’s played by Ms. Chaistain as someone with a bit more pizzaz in a way. Ms. Chastain, by the way, deserves every good thing that’s being said about her in this, her stunning breakout year, she’s the real thing.

I really recommend The Debt, it’s not some sort of masterful espionage thriller, but it has a lot of outstanding elements that were wonderfully created. The whole moody and dark sort of approach at the themes of guilt and the ambiguity that can be found in the morality of this tale are really good. And it’s not just about that, as this film cranks up the adrenaline more than a few times and delivers action sequences that are masterfully choreographed and really makes the action parts of it match the intellectual qualities it possesses. I do believe, however, and this is pretty much the only considerable problem I had with the film, that by paying too much attention to all of these clever twists it gave us, it sort of bypassed a lot of the juicy political and emotional stories it could have delved further into. And that’s a problem for me, especially considering it had the cast that it had, because, no matter how clever and entertaining this was, it could have been more.

Grade: B+

Brighton Rock

23 Sep

Title: Brighton Rock
Year: 
2011
Director: 
Rowan Joffe
Writer: Rowan Joffe, based on the novel by Graham Greene
Starring: 
Sam Riley, Andrea Riseborough, Andy Serkis, John Hurt, Helen Mirren
MPAA Rating: 
Not rated
Runtime: 
111 min
Major Awards: –

IMDb Rating: 
5.7
Rotten Tomatoes: 
52%

I was rather looking forward to Brighton Rock when I first heard of it. It was the directorial debut of Rowan Joffe, the writer of 28 Weeks Later as well as last year’s The American (which I liked more than most and gave an enthusiastic B+ to), and had a cast full of both proven veterans of the British acting world and some young up-and-comers, not to mention that it had a plot that seemed to combine elements of both film noir and British gangster movies in the best of ways. And it’s good, I certainly liked the film a good deal, but when it was all said and done I thought there was something missing from this latest adaptation of Graham Greene’s iconic novel to really set it apart and propel it to real excellence.

Mr. Joffe has made a few alterations to the amazing source material, however, updating the time to a mid-sixties Britain so that he can tackle more of that great British gangster time that it was and embed this film with more than its fair share of explicit violence, and he has also taken his liberties by taking out a few character and story details that, for my money, he would have been much more wise to leave in. That being said, however, I will say that this adaptation is still quite loyal to its source novel, and in today’s world of endless adaptations and interpretations, that’s all we can really ask for. I mean, the atmosphere on hand Mr. Joffe crafted for this film is just terrific and totally evoking of the novel’s bleak nature, and the change of era allowed for him to use youth riots and number of other things to add a tinge of social unrest that really gives the film a really cool edge.

Sam Riley, who broke out a few years ago thanks to his stellar performance as Ian Curtis in Anton Corbijn’s Control (and who’s set to star as Sal Paradise in Walter Salle’s upcoming adaptation of On the Road), plays Pinkie Brown in this one, the sociopathic, small-time thug who’s part of a second-rate gang in Brighton. He meets Rose, played by Andrea Riseborough, a waitress at a local tea shop, and with her he goes walking down the pier, just as they encounter Fred Hale, a rival gang member, an encounter that’s captured in a photograph. Soon after, Pinkie beats Hale to death beneath the pier, which means now he has to get rid of the photographic evidence that they had met, as well as manage to keep Rose silent about the whole ordeal. Not to mention that there’s also Ida, the character the legendary Helen Mirren plays here, Rose’s boss at the tea shop who had a casual affair with Hale and starts suspecting Pinkie of it as she starts questioning Rose, who seems to be falling for him, about the killing.

This is good stuff we get here, the whole historic background of the clash between the Mods and the Rockers that shaped so much the British teenage culture adds to the ideas that Mr. Joffe toys with here that deal so much with a lot of social unease that you can see seething from under Pinkie, who along with Rose can be seen as some sort of representation of this new sort of identity that started coming up at the time. You don’t really get why Rose would ever fall for a guy that seems as evil as Pinkie, but she does, and a lot of attention is given to their very unromantic courtship, which you get the idea that Pinkie is only going along with to keep her quiet about what she knows, the only thing they have in common being their devout Roman Catholicism.

Pinkie might as well kill her off too, but instead he marries her, that way she can’t be forced to testify against him, as Rose learns too late from the protective Ida who tries to no avail to get her off the claws of Pinkie. So you see why I say that the gloom of Brighton Rock is what makes it what it is, as Mr. Joffe crafts the film noir version of the modern British gangster movie, and is aided by a skillful cast, Mr. Riley and Ms. Riseborough do a good job at showing the evolving painful relationship between Pinkie and Rose, then you have the wonderful Ms. Mirren who gives a powerful performance as the steely Ida that shows that she’s a force to be reckoned with, and the you have the likes of Andy Serkis, as the crime lord of the Colleoni gang, and John Hurt as Corkery, an old friend of Ida’s. This is a brilliant cast.

Brighton Rock isn’t a masterful adaptation of Graham Greene’s splendid novel, but it still is this very good neo-noir exercise in filmmaking and is definitely a very respectable debut film from Mr. Joffe who manages to craft an effective and moody little crime movie. There’s obviously stuff that would have made it a better film, giving Pinkie a back story for one, but what it does is still solid, it obviously wanted to get some sort of theological debate going by how much it delved into the Catholicism part of it all, which I didn’t think it did as successfully by not making it as important as it was in the novel, but it still has a gritty film that makes this one become a very competent noir.

Grade: B

Arthur

1 May

Title: Arthur
Year: 
2011
Director: 
Jason Winer
Writer: Peter Baynham, based on the previous screenplay and story written by Steve Gordon
Starring: 
Russell Brand, Helen Mirren, Jennifer Garner, Greta Gerwig, Nick Nolte, Luis Guzmán
MPAA Rating: 
PG-13, alcohol use throughout, sexual content, language and some drug references
Runtime: 
110 min
Major Awards: –

IMDb Rating: 
5.2
Rotten Tomatoes: 
27%

The original Arthur, that 1981 film starring Dudley Moore, is truly a comedy classic, full of honestly funny moments and some great performances by Mr. Moore, Liza Minnelli and John Gielgud. And now, three decades after the release of that one, we get a remake of it, and it’s one that feels quite unnecessary really, and that even though Russell Brand, who gets to see if he can carry a film all by himself here, is totally game for it all, we get a sense that even though the guy can be hilarious when playing supporting roles, or sharing the lead like in last year’s awesome Get Him to the Greek, that’s not so much the case when the guy is the main player, as his cheeky demeanor can sometimes get exhaustive.

I mean, it’s not as though the film is horrible, after all the people in the cast are all quite great, which is especially true when you consider this one has Greta Gerwig, who was probably my favorite new actress of last year after appearing in Greenberg, so she alone can bump this one up a grade for me. But this one just wasn’t needed by anyone, the original is truly great on its own right and didn’t need retelling even if it had been left alone for thirty years, and it’s not that I want to thrash on Mr. Brand here because I actually think the guy’s rather brilliant, but he’s just no Dudley Moore.

And that’s because in the original Arthur there was this sadness to the leading role of a drunk New York playboy that was being forced to marry or risk losing all his fortune. In this remake Mr. Brand doesn’t add that quality to the role, which I guess was maybe because he was trying to make the role his own, like the rest of the actors here also were (Helen Mirren’s role was formerly played by a man, for instance), but taking that away from the film took a whole lot from its overall quality.

And by the way, Ms. Mirren is probably the best part of this remake. She’s seen here tackling a role that was originated by a male, and that also won John Gielgud an Oscar for playing Hobson, who’s Arthur’s butler, and that the late Mr. Gielgud played with a terrific dry wit that worked wonders for the role. Ms. Mirren makes the role her own, not because she’s a woman and not a male, because the only thing that came from that was an unfortunate joke about breast feeding and the changing of Hobson’s title from butler to nanny, but because she’s very funny in the way she reacts to Arthur and in the little things she borrows from Mr. Gielgud’s interpretation, if Mr. Brand as Arthur would have been reciprocal in the quality of his performance then this one might have just turned out good.

But the dilemma for Arthur is that his mother wants him to marry this unlikable woman, played by Jennifer Garner, who would be seen as a fitting bride for a man of his wealth and who’s super uptight and hell-beant on climbing the social ladder as high as she possibly can. Of course there’s the other less seemly alternative which is Ms. Gerwig’s character, a tour guide from Queens who’s made to be the quirky character in the film who Arthur actually likes but who’s not seen by his family as the right bride for him to represent the family’s billion dollar empire. And the scenes between Mr. Brand and Ms. Gerwig are actually quite funny because these are two very cool people who are actually talented.

But I keep going back to thinking that the reason this Arthur just didn’t work for me was because Mr. Brand just embedded the role with too little of the sense of loneliness that came from being so wealthy that Dudley Moore gave it, instead Mr. Brand just plays this drunken guy who has loads of money and has a lot of fun spending it, and the emotional connection is pretty much null. And you know what, the dilemma of choosing between the woman his family wanted for him or the one he wants and might risk losing his fortune for is much more clear-cut here. I mean, in the original the character Ms. Garner plays here was actually a pretty smart and attractive woman who just had no chance because Arthur was too busy chasing after the other girl, who then was played by Liza Minnelli, while in here Ms. Garner plays this gold-digging woman who just wants the status that would come from the marriage and we dislike her from the get-go and find ourselves more obviously inclined to root for Ms. Gerwig’s character.

This new Arthur wasn’t bad but it wasn’t much of anything because we didn’t need it. Yes, the whole cast does the best they can, but they are working from a re-work of a film that needed no reworking, and most of the changes done to the original here don’t improve the quality at all, especially that of making Arthur more of just a fun drunk who quickly becomes obnoxious and tiresome to watch for a whole film instead of a guy that was both a charming free spirit and a drunk we felt sorry for at the same time. If you haven’t seen the original then maybe you’ll find yourself liking this Arthur, but if that’s somehow the case (because you really should have seen Arthur by now) then I would advice you to rent the original and watch it in the comfort of your home instead of buying an overpriced ticket to see the modernized retelling of a film that was best left alone.

Grade: C+

The Tempest

19 Dec

Title: The Tempest
Year:
2010
Director:
Julie Taymor
Writer:
Julie Taymor, based on the play by William Shakespeare
Starring:
Helen Mirren, Djimon Hounsou, Russell Brand, Alfred Molina, Chris Cooper, Felicity Jones, Reeve Carney, Alan Cumming, David Strathairn, Ben Whishaw, Tom Conti
MPAA Rating:
PG-13, some nudity, suggestive content and scary images
Runtime:
110 min
Major Awards:
IMDb Rating:
6.8
Rotten Tomatoes:
24%

 

This wasn’t an exceptional film, and I’ve been told by a few people that they actually thought it really sucked. My feelings toward it weren’t nearly as harsh, I enjoyed parts of it, mostly because I’ve always been a fan of Julie Taymor’s directing style, but I guess that if you don’t share that love with me The Tempest may indeed result to be a terribly off-putting experience.

For those of you who don’t know exactly who Ms. Taymor is, she’s the director of only three past films, all which have a very marked stamp on them, those three being: Titus, her debut and first foray into Shakespeare, then would come Frida in 2002, and finally the Beatles-inspired, and a personal favorite of mine, Across the Universe in 2007.

Those are all very polarizing films, her most widely accepted effort was obviously Frida which won 2 Oscars (for Make-Up and Original Score) and was nominated for four others, but her films many times seem to have that love-them-or-hate-them effect to some degree or another. And I always find myself liking them, the costume and set design are always top notch, in fact all three of her films have scored a Best Costume Design Oscar nomination, and they’re just these large scale grand spectacles that look really neat in a big screen.

The Tempest, for its part, is nowhere close to being her best film, that to me would certainly be Across the Universe, which I have ranked as the 40th best of all last decade, but this one still looks quite nifty, the costumes especially are still impeccable as are the sets and every other detail here, but in the end it just isn’t the great. As classic and timeless as the source play by Shakespeare may be, and as oustanding as the cast Ms. Taymor gathered can be, this one still feels a bit too ambitious, even for her, and the amount of songs that intercede the action here don’t feel as great.

The one big and significant change Ms. Taymor made to the original play, which is believed to have been the last Shakespeare wrote alone, was obviously changing the sex of the main character to a female, from Prospero to Prospera, so that the amazing Helen Mirren could step into the role. And that alteration may just be the best thing she could have done for this film, though to be fair Ms. Mirren could probably play Popeye in a live-action adaptation and she’d probably find a way to somehow make it work, she’s just that good.

But what didn’t work so well for me in here was the fact that if you read the play you’ll see that Shakespeare dealt quite a bit with the humanity behind the actions in this film, which are all done with magic. That was what was so poetic about the play, it wasn’t just about magic and spells and curses and what not, it was about mortality and life. In the film those themes are obviously touched upon, but Ms. Taymor is too busy paying attention to the huge magic side of it, which I must say was done really well, to pay much detail to the more human side of it, and that takes a lot away from this film.

And Ms. Mirren isn’t the only amazing thespian involved here, there’s Djimon Hounson as the enraged Caliban, the original inhabitant of the island. There are Russell Brand and Alfred Molina, making for a very entertaining duo as they tackle Stephano and Trinculo, two drunks who give booze to Caliban. Felicity Jones plays Miranda, the beautiful daughter of Prospera. And a bunch of other great actors like David Strathairn and Alan Cumming are also here doing their usual great jobs.

I say all this to illustrate just how loaded with talent this film was, and for the most part they make it all work wonderfully fine, and they are all terrific at reading Shakespeare, but as a whole it doesn’t work. I guess it has quite a lot to do with Ms. Taymor, unfortunately, her ambition finally did her in, as it was bound to, because she obviously loves the material, but by shooting too damn high and concentrating on the magic to make everything happen, instead of on the story to make the magic happens, she delivers a film that while still perfectly decent was not as good as it could have potential been. Though I’ll defintiely still look forward to whatever she does next.

Grade: B-