Tag Archives: Jennifer Ehle

[Review] – Zero Dark Thirty

6 Jan

Zero Dark Thirty

Title: Zero Dark Thirty
Year: 2012
Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Writer: Mark Boal
Starring: Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Joel Edgerton, Mark Strong, Chris Pratt, Kyle Chandler, Mark Duplass, Frank Grillo, Edgar Ramirez, Harold Perrineau, Jennifer Ehle, James Gandolfini
MPAA Rating: R, strong violence including brutal disturbing images, and for language
Runtime: 157 min
IMDb Rating: 7.4
Rotten Tomatoes: 94%
Metacritic: 95

Finally I get to watch Zero Dark Thirty. Let me tell you something out front, I don’t intend to get into any of the hot topics that have been surrounding this movie, at least not spend the whole review talking about. I won’t talk about whether it’s pro-Obama, or whether it’s pro-torture, or whether it got improper access to classified information. On the one hand I don’t think I’m really classified to talk about those things with any kind of credibility (though, obviously, that hasn’t stopped most people with an internet connection to do so) and on the other hand I’m here to talk about the merits of Kathryn Bigelow‘s latest as a film. And as a film this is an undeniable masterpiece.

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[Trailer] – Zero Dark Thirty

11 Oct

Not much has been heard about Kathryn Bigelow‘s upcoming Zero Dark Thirty, probably due to the fact that they want to wait until after the election is done to really get the promotional ball rolling but for good measure we’ve now gotten a new trailer which you can watch below.

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[Teaser] – Zero Dark Thirty

6 Aug

Watch the teaser for the highly-anticipated Zero Dark Thirty after the cut.

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The Ides of March

3 Nov

Title: The Ides of March
Year: 
2011
Director: 
George Clooney
Writers: George Clooney, Grant Heslov and Beau Willimon, based on the play by Mr. Willimon
Starring: 
Ryan Gosling, George Clooney, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Evan Rachel Wood, Marissa Tomei, Jeffrey Wright, Max Minghella, Jennifer Ehle
MPAA Rating: 
R, pervasive language
Runtime: 
101 min
Major Awards: –

IMDb Rating: 
7.5
Rotten Tomatoes: 
85%

 

At the start of 2011 if you had asked me, sight unseen, what my most-anticipated film for the year was I would have no doubt replied with The Ides of March, that or We Bought a Zoo. Now, obviously that opinion for any given obsessive moviegoer such as myself varies as the year moves along, right now Shame is definitely the film I look the most forward to seeing, but I was still really looking forward to getting to see The Ides of March. The reason for that was that it just seemed like the sort of movie I would eat up, and that’s pretty much because of how involved George Clooney was in the making of it. I love Mr. Clooney; he’s a true movie star, handsome and charming and a damn fine actor to boot, the guy’s always awesome and the choices he’s making at this stage of his career are truly a joy to watch take form. And he was deeply involved with the making of this film, taking on directing, writing, acting and producing duties on it, a very political film based on Beau Willimon’s very successful play Farragut North.

If you remember, the last time Mr. Clooney took those duties on a political film the result was Good Night, and Good Luck (though that one was produced solely by Grant Heslov, Mr. Clooney producing partner who also produced and co-wrote this one), and that film was amazing, I have it ranked as my fifteenth favorite of all 2005 and it got Mr. Clooney Oscar nominations for his direction and writing. So expectations were certainly running high for this one just because of Mr. Clooney’s involvement and the themes this one would tackle, and that only increased when I heard about the cast that was shaping up to make this one: You had Mr. Clooney himself, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Marissa Tomei, Evan Rachel Wood, Jeffrey Wright and, of course, the apparent successor to Mr. Clooney’s infinite wit, charm and sheer talent, Ryan Gosling.

I’ve said this is the year of Ryan Gosling, more than it is the year of Brad Pitt or Jessica Chastain or whomever you want to tag it as the year of, the guy has starred in what’s to this date my favorite film of all 2011, Drive, and is using that film along with this one, and along with Crazy, Stupid, Love. which I’ve yet to watch, to really establish himself as the best actor of his generation. And Mr. Gosling’s at it again here, leading an ensemble full of the some of the best working actors today and absolutely nailing it. And that’s kind of my general opinion about The Ides of March, that even though it wasn’t the absolute masterpiece I was expecting, and even though it’s not my favorite film of the year, it’s probably the best acted film we’ve seen so far, it doesn’t make any sort of grandiose statements about the world of politics today, and it may be too comfortable in its own skin because it knows how great its pieces are, but I mean, the level of acting that goes on in every single scene here is just a beauty to behold.

Now, don’t get me wrong, this is still one of the finest films to have come out all year, and will certainly crack my Top 10 for the year so far once I rank it after finishing this review, but I guess a part me had hyped this one up too much and it just wasn’t going to quench my expectations no matter what. It tells a story about running a political campaign in modern American politics, a very timely topic and one Mr. Clooney is obviously a perfect fit to explore, as we see what these arduous campaigns do to those involved, the toll it takes in both body and soul, it’s extremely taxing stuff, amd we see if it’s possible for a candidate at the end of a campaign to still be able to stand behind the values and promises he was making when it started out.

And honestly, I’m not one for overly-political films, I didn’t want this one to aggressively make a statement about the state of politics, but I guess I was kind of expecting it to, and ultimately this film is not like that at all, it’s not about the right of the left or about the cynicism behind it all, it obviously has a bit of that because it’s about politics, but this film is really just an entertaining movie and on that was built, plain and simple, for the enjoyment of those who love watching some seriously outstanding displays of acting chops.

We close in on Stephen Meyers, Mr. Gosling’s character, a really good press secretary who’s in charge of the campaign for Pennsylvania Governor Mike Morris, a pretty idealistic and eco-friendly candidate played by Mr. Clooney. We see these two characters accompanied by a slew of others, whether it’s Morris’ veteran campaign manager, Paul Zara played by Mr. Hoffman, or the campaign manager for the opposition that Mr. Giamatti plays, Tom Duffy. These are all players we see behind a pretty pivotal point in the campaign, the Ohio primary, and under that backdrop we see a political campaign unfold, the handshakes that are exchanged, the thought put into the speeches, the sheer exhaustion is exacts on everyone involved. And we see a lot of its players are pretty realistic guys, who know they’ll have to make compromises and lie, but who all believe in their cause, and then we have Stephen, who pretty much wants Morris to win in order to climb up the ladder and maybe get a post like Zara’s.

And you get that this was based on a play, and you get that this is an actor’s showcasing dream, because there are points here, particularly in the first two acts that some of these accomplished thespians just let it rip, Mr. Hoffman and Mr. Giamatti have some monologues here that clearly belong front-and-center in stage, but they are two of the best actors of our lifetime, so you can bet your ass they will make them work wonders in a big screen, too. The catch for Mr. Gosling’s character comes with his involvement with two women. One of them is Molly, a young intern whom he sleeps with, using her innocence about the business she’s in to get some information from her, she’s played by Evan Rachel Wood, who I’ve longed championed as one of the best young actresses around and who I thought nailed this role, going at it with Mr. Gosling superbly well and really showing some depth after we start shedding layers off of Molly, getting a lot of emotion from the script. The other woman with whom Stephen tangoes is the journalist played by Marissa Tomei, another actress who I love and who can do no wrong for me, it’s really good to see those two working against each other as their characters try to pry intel from each other.

Another actor who just totally owns the screen here is Jeffrey Wright, who I reckon should be infinitely better known than he is and who’s already starred in one of the year’s best films, Source Code (which I gave an A- and currently sits as the 18th best of the year so far). He’s just a phenomenal actor, and he had already been awesome against Mr. Clooney in Syriana (for which Mr. Clooney obviously won his Oscar) and here he gets this small but pivotal role in the movie as Senator Thompson, a guy who’s endorsement would be key into getting a lock on the nomination, and the way Mr. Wright takes command of the screen here is just awesome to watch. Again, this is more than worth the price of admission if only because of the acting in display.

George Clooney also shows that he’s really a very good director, he’s obviously very much in love with making movies about smart men in some really complex situations. And he builds up this really awesome atmosphere here, creating intrigue around the inner-thoughts of Stephen and how hard to read and amoral he is, the whole political vibe of this film is just executed in a way that you won’t be able to help but look back to some of the best political thrillers from three or four decades ago, the oldschool pacing Mr. Clooney brings forth is a treat to watch, as is his performance as Morris. The Ides of March ultimately wasn’t the best movie of the year like I had hoped for all those months ago, and it doesn’t provide any kind of new information about politics or make a big statement about them, but that’s just as well, because it has an ensemble that goes to work with this material, and they more than make up for any of the film’s small faults.

Grade: A

Contagion

8 Oct

Title: Contagion
Year: 
2011
Director: 
Steven Soderbergh
Writer: Scott Z. Burns
Starring: 
Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Jude Law, Marion Cotillard, Laurence Fishburne, Gwyneth Paltrow, Bryan Cranston, Jennifer Ehle, Demetri Martin, Elliott Gould, John Hawkes
MPAA Rating: 
PG-13, disturbing content and some language
Runtime: 
106 min
Major Awards: –

IMDb Rating: 
7.2
Rotten Tomatoes: 
84%

 

A lot has been made of Steven Soderbergh’s impending retirement, it seems like it’s never coming considering the guy has like five more films in various stages of development, but when he really does release his final film ever, which is set to be Liberace with Michael Douglas and Matt Damon, he will be a director I will truly miss seeing new work from, and watching his latest, Contagion, that became all the more apparent to me. What’s so amazing about Mr. Soderbergh is his versatility in the topics he tackles in his films and the scope of them, he obviously rose to prominence thanks to his stunning debut Sex, Lies, and Videotape and from then he’s managed to produce big Hollywood films with huge casts (Traffic, the Ocean’s trilogy) as well as more artistically ambitious films (like his four-hour Che epic, or The Girlfriend Experience in which he cast pornstar Sasha Grey as his lead). And he’s made them all to varied to degrees to success, that’s true, but for the most part they are really amazing films and, more importantly, you never feel like this guy is compromising, even the Ocean’s films, which could be seen by many as a money-making move, are actually tremendously fun movies and, at the very least, you get the sense that Mr. Soderbergh and his amazing cast were just having the time of their lives making them.

But back to Contagion, the film at hand and his fifth-to-last film ever if his current retirement plans hold (he still has the already-completed Haywire, the currently-filming Magic Mike, a feature version of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and the aforementioned Liberace), this is another film that sees Mr. Soderbergh handle a huge cast full of seriously huge movie stars (you have 4 Oscar-winners here and another 4 who have been nominees) and he gets performances out of every single member of this huge cast that only a director as experienced as he can get. Seriously, this is a really well-acted film that’s just super tense and has a really neatly-written plot, a plot that’s about a deadly virus spreading, but one that handles the subject in such a smart way, insofar as that it takes a factual sort of explanation to it, that it really gets to be all the scarier because of that.

Because really that’s what makes Contagion so infinitely compelling, the fact that everything it says about this virus seems to be backed up by an logical explanation, or at least one that sounds logical. I’ve heard the film being described as science-fact instead of science-fiction, a kudos to the fact that they apparently worked with very smart scientists to create a virus that, while fictional, could very well be a real thing. And that’s what makes Contagion so scary, that’s why if you maybe go to a bar after seeing this one you will keep away as possible from the peanut bowl, especially because it’s precisely a peanut bowl that Mr. Soderbergh chooses to linger over after a sick-looking Gwyneth Paltrow grabs a few while waiting at the airport, he lets you know that the next person to go for a peanut will get a bit more than that.

This is the smartest disaster movie you’ll get to see this year, or maybe even ever now that I think about it, and it’s really a disaster movie from the very get-go which makes it all the better, Mr. Soderbergh wastes no precious time on expository scenes before that, you hear a cough as soon as the movie starts and then you’ll get a look at Ms. Paltrow, patient zero of this horrible new virus, showing the deadly signs of the disease. That’s the sort of movie this is, one that’s just incredibly fast-paced, you get little shots of people coming into contact with one another, potentially passing off something, you get all these very different cities accompanied by the number of people living in them, the number of candidates for contagion, it’s just really masterfully done, Mr. Soderbergh tightening the screws as much as he can to emphasize the tension here, it’s sharp and intelligent filmmaking at its best.

It shows that this is a director that has handled serious stuff with pure entertainment in the past in films like Traffic or Erin Brockovich, because he gives us a really terrific look at how government and society would handle such a huge pandemic but he mixes it so well with a purely entertaining and tense thriller that you never feel like this is too dense. Not to mention that, again, the talent assembled in front of the camera is just as amazing, with a who’s-who of Hollywood stars handling all of the ensemble roles. They don’t really get that much of a shot to really stretch into their characters, as they don’t get much time on screen because there are so many of them, but still, if you have Kate Winslet setting up the quarantine zones or Matt Damon as the husband of patient zero or Marion Cotillard trying to identify the source of the virus then you’re bound to see them do great things with these roles even in limited time, and indeed, they achieve some first-class emotional connection in very precious and small time.

Contagion is just a truly amazing film, Mr. Soderbergh finds a way to really make us feel scared and anxious and emotionally connected to characters that he actually keeps at arm’s-length for most of the film, and he uses this virus as a metaphor for so many things from greedy corporations to personal human relations, it’s just a wonder to watch him to do his thing here. A part of me wanted more depth to the characters to get to see these actors do wonders with them (or in the case of the blogger played by Jude Law, to make him not look like a thinly-drawn caricature of a more complex role), I don’t know, I guess I just wanted to see what Mr. Soderbergh could have done with an extra twenty-five minutes or so. But nevermind me nitpicking, this is still an incredible film, you will leave the theater afraid, that’s for sure, afraid about getting sick, afraid about how seemingly unprepared we as a civilization are if something like this happens, and afraid at only having four more films from this genius to look forward to.

Grade: A-

The King’s Speech

6 Dec

Title: The King’s Speech
Year:
2010
Director:
Tom Hooper
Writer:
David Seidler
Starring:
Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter, Jennifer Ehle, Michael Gambon, Derek Jacobi, Guy Pearce, Timothy Spall
MPAA Rating:
R, some language
Runtime:
118 min
Major Awards: 1 Golden Globe, 2 SAG Awards, DGA Award, PGA Award, 7 BAFTAs
IMDb Rating:
8.4
Rotten Tomatoes:
93%

As it has been said frequently about The King’s Speech, this is a film that ticks every single box in the Oscar rulebook, an amazing biopic about a British monarch, an inspirational period piece, boasting some seriously incredible performances by beloved actors. And yeah, in that sense I guess you know what to expect when you watch this film, but just you wait until you get to watch it, it’s a seriously wonderful thing.

I thought James Franco was going to go head to head with Colin Firth for the Best Lead Actor Oscar after seeing 127 Hours, but after seeing this one, I think it’s clear Mr. Firth will win the award, and every single precursor award before that. Last year he got his first nomination for his sublime performance in A Single Man, which was an exceptional film, but he obviously lost to the more deserving Jeff Bridges for Crazy Heart. This year, however, there will be no stopping him, and he’ll get this most deserving win.

Not to mention that the film is already poised to go against The Social Network for the Best Picture honors, and Geoffrey Rush has a really good chance at nabbing his second Oscar, the first one was for his leading performance in Shine, in the Best Supporting Actor category, and that Helena Bonham Carter also has a really good shot at the Best Supporting Actress trophy.

And The King’s Speech is such a special film because it manages to have all these biopic standards down to perfection, while still being a seriously entertaining film, and that at its core is just one very good buddy film. It perfectly combines the things that will please the commercial crowd with the technical mastery that will have the critics drooling. And when you have Mr. Firth and Mr. Rush to play the two unlikely buddies, the result is spectacular, two acting greats doing their thing like it’s nobody’s business.

A very inspirational flick, one that can be very funny at times and that in the first half of the 20th century finds the ideal context in which to tell a very good human story. And it really is all because of Mr. Firth and Mr. Rush, who play of each other sensationally well, the result being one breathtaking example of prime acting.

Mr. Firth plays the Duke of York, who suffered from a terrible stutter which he was made to fix as he was crowned King George VI. While Mr. Rush plays Lionel Logue, an unorthodox Australian speech therapist hired to help him and with whom he forms the most unlikely of alliances. This is the best one-on-one acting I have seen in a really long time, Mr. Rush is electric as the speech therapist and Mr. Firth is unbelievable as Albert, a king being a reluctant pupil to a common man.

The relationship that develops is seriously astounding, and these two embody their roles to absolute perfection, engaging in a game of push-pull that’s written seriously well, and that is just elevated to a whole new other level by the uniqueness these two performers add to their roles, further enhancing these rich characters who actually existed and went through it, and humanizing the British monarchy while at it.

And even though Mr. Firth and Mr. Rush will get all the attention, and probably all the awards, and will do so deservedly, the rest of the cast is just as tremendous. Helena Bonham Carter as I said is bound to be in the thick of the Supporting Actress race for her performance as the Duchess of York; Michael Gambon is amazing as Albert’s father; Guy Pearce, an Australian playing an Englishman, is outstanding as Albert’s brother who abdicates the throne;  and Derek Jacobi is great as the Archbishop of Canterbury. So yes, this is a film that’s simply well acted, everyone brings their top game to the table and the result is marvelous, a film full of flawless performances.

A lot of credit also has to be given to Tom Hooper, the director. The man can seriously let his actors be, and he can tell one helluva story with class, and treat any topic with a fresh hand and give it a great pacing and feel. If you need further proof you only have to see the work he has done for HBO, meaning Elizabeth I and, most recently, John Adams, and you’ll see that the guy can approach a tale so embedded in history in the greatest of ways, same goes for The Damned United, a feature film of his starring Michael Sheen that was seriously good.

This is a very good film, propelled by a truly masterful performance from Mr. Firth. It’s all about his character and the fear his stutter gives him, the man has to make a speech to all the nation at Wembley Stadium, and the shock and horror that overtakes him at the prospect of having to do with such a bad form of speech is conveyed to perfection by Mr. Firth, he looks positively terrified, afraid, disappointed at himself for not being able to perform his royal duties properly. He brings a huge amount of humanity to the character, and we start seeing the layers come off slowly as he is set up against Mr. Rush’s character, and the two together provide some of the best scenes film has seen this year.

If this film goes on to win Best Picture at the Oscars a part of me will be disappointed, I liked The Social Network better, and a few other films this year as well, but I would totally get it if it won. But on the other hand, if Mr. Firth somehow fails to win the Best Actor trophy, no matter who else gets it, I’ll be upset; his is a performance to remember. And he is the one that makes this such a great film, his scenes with Mr. Rush are impeccable, a film that tackles a topic that could resonate in any era, a man faced with a horrible problem who has surrendered to it, and the one that’s parterened with him, thinking that nothing is impossible. To take the journey with these two is just a thoroughly satisfying cinematic experience, and thus The King’s Speech is a crowning achievement.

Grade: A