Tag: Ewan McGregor

American Pastoral: Blu-ray review

AP5Actors who try their hand at directing often yield mixed results.  For every Affleck, Eastwood, or Gibson (who gave us masterpieces such as Gone Baby Gone, Unforgiven or Apocalypto) there are their flagging counterparts. Whoever heard of a film directed by Nicholas Cage.  That’s right, no-one, because his only effort, Sonny, barely registered a blip on the consciousness of the film going public.  It wasn’t a flop; it’s only a flop if anyone cares.  It was just a bland piece of “been there done that” box ticking—a place to hang up your coat when you’ve lost your good looks (although I’m unsure if Cage had any good looks to start with).  There are plenty more ho-hum actor-turned-director efforts from where Cage came from.

Here’s one.

It’s been a while since the somewhat tepid theatrical release, but American Pastoral has finally made its way onto Blu-ray. This film represents another “have a go at directing” attempt by an A-list actor—namely Ewan McGregor, who also plays the film’s main protagonist, Seymour “Swede” Levov.  

The story begins in the turmoil of ’60s America and spans a few decades after.  The Levov family represent all that is “wholesome” about America. Together, Swede, an all-American college star and his beauty-queen wife, Dawn (Jennifer Connelly) bring up their daughter, Merry (Dakota Fanning).  Conservative, yet with a liberal edge, this well-mannered family are blissfully living the American dream when their life is derailed by Merry, who in her teens unexpectedly turns into a violent activist. Her criminal acts and then disappearance haunt Swede and rocks the foundations of his marriage and his repeated attempts to find Merry are met with heartache and ultimately a life-defining discovery.

Philip Roth’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel, from which this film is based, has been languidly adapted by John Romano (who also wrote the Coen brother’s worst film; Intolerable Cruelty).  His rather bland hand is a seemingly safe bet for a novice director.  However, I can’t help but wonder what McGregor’s might’ve achieved had Romano injected a bit more spunk into his adaption.

But as it stands this ho-hum release feels very tame—a gunpowder factory would take more risks. What remains is a mildly engaging story maintained most likely because of the source material rather than its cinematic embellishments (or lack thereof).  

The Blu-ray offers two bonus features: Making the America Dream is an 18-minute feature that explores behind the camera, the film’s locations, costume design etc.  The second feature, American Pastoral: Adapting an American Classic, is a 28-minute investigation into the film’s characters, cast, and direction. Both features offer extensive interviews and a reasonable amount of depth.  The feature is encoded in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and there is an optional director’s commentary included.  Its picture is beautifully rendered in 1080p with a 2.40:1 screen ratio and takes advantage of Martin Ruhe’s (Control) deft hand with the camera.

American Pastoral Blu-ray hits shelves 11th July.

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

Our Kind of Traitor

It appears that author John le Carré’s work has become the darling of movie executives in the same way that John Grisham’s books were 20 years ago. However, like Grisham, le Carré’s books are hit-and-miss when it comes to their translation to the big screen, and needless to say, this is partly due to the treatment by the studio of the source material. So it was with some trepidation that I tiptoed lightly into the cinema to see le Carré’s latest adaptation.

Our Kind of Traitor tells the story of a young couple; Perry (played by the very likeable, but somewhat bland Ewan McGregor) and Gail (Naomie Harris). While on holiday in Marrakech, the couple cross paths with Dima (Stellan Skarsgard), a charismatic Russian oligarch who plans to defect. Dima’s intentions appear noble to Peter who lacks the street smarts required to deal with the situation. The couple nose-dive into a political melange that quickly involve the British Secret Service and the Russian Mafia.

A curious lack of chemistry between McGregor and Harris is salvaged by the fact (or more likely, coincidence) that the pairing’s discord affirm their onscreen counterparts, who are struggling to reignite their relationship. Whatever the reason, the flat performances do not make for compelling viewing. Damian Lewis who plays Hector, a MIA operative, tries hard to liven things up, but it is the ever reliable Skarsgard who gives the film some semblance of energy. The resulting patchwork of character depth is unsettling and points to ill-considered production choices rather than le Carré’s source material.

Dexterous cinematography and post production trickery go some way to disguise the fact that Our Kind of Traitor is a very conventionally shot film. English director Susanna White’s cannon of work is predominantly television, which perhaps explains her safe approach to the subject matter (although it must be said that the lines are becoming increasingly blurred between big and small screen). It is evident that White struggles to break away from her television roots, and ultimately the production becomes formulaic.

I would love to say Our Kind of Traitor is a refreshing new take on the spy thriller, but unfortunately it isn’t. In a few years I will fondly remember le Carré’s other screen adaptations – Alfredson’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Mierelles’ The Constant Gardner – for their engaging approach to the genre. Unfortunately, Our Kind of Traitor will have long been forgotten.

Rating: 2/5 stars.

Read the published review here.

Top ten memorable scenes: #7 Trainspotting

Danny Boyle is quite the visceral director which lends itself well to this scene. Here Renton (Ewan McGregor) fishes around a shit infested public toilet (the “worst toilet in Scotland”) for his mislaid opium suppositories. The uncomfortable wonder of Renton swiming serenely through toilet water is perfectly realised and delicately balances the awkward dichotomy of the euphoria of drugs and its associated squalor. Boyle does such magical job of recreating filth and beauty at the same time. He did it again in Slumdog Millionaire which I’m sure was motivated (at least visually) by this scene. Trainspotting is such a brilliant film … I’ll let the scene do the talking.

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen – mini review

Directed by Lars Hallström (Chocolat, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, Cider House Rules) Salmon Fishing in Yemen is a light weight and mildly comedic romance that centers on the absurd premise of creating a salmon fishing spot in the Yemen. Read the rest of this mini review here.