Tag: Charlize Theron

Bombshell

bs1Verdict: Packs plenty of gun powder but doesn’t quite go off with a bang.

Director Jay Roach has gingerly tiptoed through the thorny but serious topic of sexual harassment in his latest film, the provocatively titled Bombshell. It’s a bold move for a director better known for the comedic contrivances of Austin Powers, but his latest certainly isn’t for laughs and plays out more like a politically explosive revenge film.

News anchor Gretchen Carlson (Kidman) kicks off a lawsuit against her boss (Fox Network bigwig Roger Ailes, played by a very slimy John Lithgow) for unfair demotion. The revelation that Ailes sexually harassed her is met with a ground-swell of cautious support, among them news anchor Megyn Kelly (Theron) and Kayla Pospisil (Robbie), that fast becomes a triple barrelled powder-keg of feminine rage planted deep within the bowels of Fox Network’s male-dominated ivory tower.

You’ll forgive Bombshell for the diversity drought—the Fox building, where this tale is predominantly set, is presented as a hotbed of white, conservative ambition. Cleverly, the sexual harassment case plays out to the backdrop of the Trump’s election campaign in which the film screams “see who you’ve let run the free world?!”. It’s fairly obvious where Bombshell’s political sentiments lie.

Unfortunately, Bombshell’s fever-pitched witch hunt does pay undue attention towards its more mechanical “cloak-and-dagger” plot points and timidly shies away from fully fleshing out its female characters. One notable scene in which a disconsolate Kayla (Robbie) weeps down the phone to her friend searching for reassurance, unfortunately, loses vital impact—well-acted, yes, but we just don’t know enough about her to care. As it stands we are held strangely at arm’s length which hints to screenwriter Charles Randolph’s (The Big Short) penchant for punchy political satire rather than deeply personal stories. Perhaps also a product of men telling women’s stories, but far be it from me to make that call.

Despite these grumbles Bombshell still offers engaging viewing thanks in part to Roach’s kinetic film-making but mostly due to the solid acting from the triumvirate of female A-listers who seem to get the most from Randolph’s pallid characterisations. It’s a well-intended film that enthusiastically nods towards the #metoo movement but never fully arrives at the point where feminine ambition intersects with moral fortitude.

See my reviews for the NZ Herald here and for Witchdoctor here.

Atomic Blonde

 

abThe name is Blonde, Atomic Blonde. Actually, her name is Lorraine which doesn’t have quite the same zing … but other than that, Charlize Theron’s new role may as well be a female Bond (or perhaps more accurately a female Bourne).

It is 1989 and the Berlin Wall is about to collapse, signifying the end of communism in Europe’s East. However, a rogue list naming covert operatives is in the wild and it threatens to halt the pro-democracy movement.  Enter Lorraine Broughton (Theron), a spy for Britain’s MI6 who is sent to retrieve “the list”. Her point of contact in Berlin is David Percival (James McAvoy) and together the two navigate the cagey and violent world of espionage.

Set against a backdrop of graffiti, punks, physical media, and eighties music (including the obligatory Falco and Nena), Atomic Blonde makes damn sure you know it’s the eighties. Cinematographer Jonathan Sela frames the film with a graphic novel sensibility (from which the story originates) and every opportunity is taken to bathe scenes in neon pinks and baby blues.

In his first feature film as Director, David Leitch has employed his background as a stuntman to great effect. Technically there is little to fault the film’s kinetic flair with impressive set pieces and fight sequences that evoke a genuine physicality.

Although we’ve seen this kind of spy story many times over, the film competently negotiates the pitfalls common to the genre; in particular the delicate balance between over or under explaining its many plot complications.  Atomic Blonde’s flashback narrative structure goes some way to alleviate such problems.

Most notably, Atomic Blonde is a comment on the current gender imbalance in spy thriller films (similar to Wonder Woman’s take on the superhero genre). Casting a woman as your protagonist is one thing, but when she excels in what is traditionally a man’s domain, then it becomes a statement. At one point a character who is sympathetic to the old communist regime utters “Women are always getting in the way of progress”—to which Theron’s sharp retort is clearly a rebuke of such antiquated notions.

However, dig a little deeper beyond the style and gender concerns and (like Wonder Woman) we are met with a bog standard genre flick that, while competently handled by its Director, walks a well-trodden path. For some, this will be enough, but others might consider Atomic Blonde to be a little hollow.
 

You can see my published reviews here.

Jacques Rivette and my top five of 2015

I have just returned from holiday to the news that Jacques Rivette has died.  He was a unique director who kicked off the French New Wave movement.  Unique at the time because of his propensity for long takes – he would let the camera sit and observe, a technique that appears to be lost on many directors today. I studied some of his films a couple of years ago as part of my Masters, and his first film Paris Belongs to Us (1961) always stood out as my favourite.

On a completely different topic, here are my top five picks of the films that I saw in 2015.  This is a little late and redundant, I know, but a cinephile (at least this cinephile!) always needs to get this list off their chest.  So here goes:

1. Mad Max: Fury Road – a bravura action piece that had me utterly enthralled, and exhausted. Its brutal and mechanical style gives the middle finger to digital green screen (although I’m sure plenty was used) resulting in convincingly real set pieces and scenes that are unique and intoxicating. Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa rivals Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley.

 

2. Ex Machina – and at the other end of the spectrum, we have a very cerebral sci-fi. Ex Machina pulled me into a syrupy quicksand with its brooding filmic method. Oscar Isaac and Alicia Vikander are fantastic, as is the script.

 

3. Inside Out – a thoughtful and clever Pixar animated film that can be viewed on many levels. It is a wonderfully entertaining take on the inner workings of the protagonist’s mind. 

 

4. Song of the Sea  – another animated feature, but this time from Ireland.  As with Inside Out, this film explores life from a child’s perspective. Beautifully moving and had me in tears by the end.

 

5. A Most Violent Year – directed by JC Chandor, and starring Oscar Isaac (who is rapidly becoming one of my favourite actors) and Jessica Chastain (who already is), this is a solid film that does not get carried away with its subject matter.

 

Some honourable mentions: I really wanted to put Night Crawler on this list as it is a superb movie, however, I’m fairly certain it was a 2014 release, so out it goes, dammit!  Other good films worth seeing, Z for Zachariah, Slow West, Paddington, Finders Keepers, 99 Homes, Ernest and Cestestine, Umrika.  Blind spots (films I really wanted to see but have yet to) for 2015 are Anomalisa, Tangerine, The Hateful Eight, Brooklyn, Love and Mercy, The Revenant, White God, and Carol.

 

A couple of uplifting films

The Road

Perhaps the most depressing film I have ever seen. Moving, sad, and personal, it invaded my mind for days after viewing. The tragic father-son relationship played by Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee (who would later reprise a similar vulnerable innocence in the excellent Slow West) is wonderfully realised. We never know their names, they are simply Man and Boy, and their anonymity is brutally portrayed as they make their way through a world lost. The Road is a parable of our post apocalyptic fears and it strikes a chord because the premise is a genuine possibility for humanity.


Rating: 5 stars

The Act of Killing

A remarkably unique documentary that accounts the Indonesian genocide of 1965. Having somehow located the genocide’s death-squad leaders (who are now living normal lives in Indonesia, and yet to be brought to justice), director Joshua Oppenheimer, convinces them to re-enact their mass killings under the guise of shooting a Hollywood styled feature film. Oppenheimer presents his subjects with an uncomfortable lightness and humour which is at odds with the subject matter at hand. This juxtaposition only serves to ratchet up the unease as the film progresses. Interesting things begin to happen when the main subject enacts the part of the victim … the result is surprising and disturbing. A chilling reminder of what atrocities every human is capable of.

Whereas The Road suggests a future world where humanity’s deficiencies have prevailed, The Act of Killing underscores similar frailties that have already happened in our past. Both films illustrate the very real and brutal side of human nature. This dark side of humanity is unfortunately all too common when certain conditions are present, and I believe we need to be reminded of this every so often. Hence, I consider these films as essential viewing.


Rating: 4 stars

Prometheus – official trailer

And here it is. The trailer for Prometheus proper. I must say it look looks fantastic.

In Greek mythology Prometheus was “a champion of mankind, known for his wily intelligence, who stole fire from Zeus and gave it to mortals.Zeus then punished him for his crime by having him bound to a rock while a great eagle ate his liver every day only to have it grow back to be eaten again the next day. His myth has been treated by a number of ancient sources, in which Prometheus is credited with – or blamed for – playing a pivotal role in the early history of mankind.” – taken from Wikipedia.

This strongly hints at some of the themes that the film will touch on.

Prometheus – teaser 2

And so it continues … Prometheus Teaser Trailer Part 2

Prometheus – teaser

A little ridiculous really, but here is the trailer to the trailer for Prometheus.

I am sensing a palpable 1979 Alien vibe here! Compare this to the original trailer (a work of art in its own right):

Prometheus

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Prometheus. A film I am really looking forward to. Not exactly a prequel to the original Alien(1979) but set in the same fictional space and unpackages many of the questions that arose from Ridley Scott original masterpiece. Alien is one of my favorite films, it chilled me to the core and hasn’t lost anything over the years. What’s really exciting is that Prometheus has the same pedigree as Alien with Ridley Scott’s returning to direct. From what little I’ve seen of released (and leaked) stills and footage Prometheus shares the same feel as Alien … and so it should should! However, now I’m expecting great things which makes me feel somewhat uncomfortable. Here’s hoping that Ridley can pick up his game after his recent disappointments.