Tag: Sebastian Stan

Destroyer

destLost in the shuffle of award season comes a police procedural so hard-boiled it could break your teeth.  LAPD Detective Erin Bell (Nicole Kidman) is not one for small talk; her steely nature and gaunt face (along with some Rami Malek calibre prosthetic dentistry) casts a striking central figure that occupies the lens like an oncoming freight train.

Neo-noir elements are slathered liberally over this cop thriller; it’s a nihilistic slow-burn that takes a while to get going, but like all good cop dramas, once hooked you’re desperate to see how it ends.

Prowling the sun-drenched suburbs of present-day L.A. in search for Silas (Toby Kebbell)—a bank robber who has recently re-emerged after wronging her years earlier—Bell’s search leads her down a rabbit warren of wrong turns and dead ends. What begins as standard police procedure becomes a primal cry of motherhood as the story investigates how the crime at hand has stained her relationship with her daughter. The chilly utilitarian connections in Destroyer certainly make for a stark moral universe.  However, welcome relief comes in the form of Bell’s undercover partner (Sebastian Stan) who manages to break up, albeit too briefly the film’s dusty scapes and drained palette with the soft glow of their relationship.

From her first outing with the critically acclaimed Girlfight, Karyn Kusama has honed her skills, becoming a noteworthy Director of women-centric tales.  Here, her decision to hang the whole film on Kidman’s performance has paid off. While Kidman may not be the first name you’d think of to play a vengeful haprd-ass, her immense scope has repaid Kusama’s gamble, delivering the film its driving force.

And driving it is, with a kinetically charged second half that makes good of its slow beginnings and offers a final twist that packs a decent wallop. But despite this, and Kidman’s compelling performance, Destroyer will most likely find itself lost in the white noise of awards season and seems destined for the scrapheap of obscurity. Shame, it deserves better.

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

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Avengers: Infinity War

avengersinfinityI’m unapologetically lukewarm about the superhero genre having long suffered the much-maligned superhero fatigue.  And while many fans will bemoan such critics and explain how the superhero genre differs little (in quantity) from other celebrated genres, I must highlight one notable difference; the dreaded word “universe”.  Attach that word to a large grouping of open-ended narrative arcs and it’s a recipe for trouble.

Rather than the episodic nature of other genres, the superhero genre has, for some reason, decided to create giant cross-pollinated mythologies of characters who share the same “universe”—every so often tying them up in one big tentpole movie.

Beholden to Marvel’s “universe” Avengers: Infinity War tries its hardest to corral its many denizens into narrative alignment. You can almost hear the cogs turning as each hero is conveyer-belted onto the screen and plugged back into the Marvel “universe” system.  Despite such difficulties, directors Joe and Anthony Russo have done an admirable job of wrangling it all together.

Understandably, the plot is fairly shallow in order to fit in the numerous heroes and villains. The infighting of previous Marvel films is largely forgotten as the Avengers are all forced to contend with a larger, outside threat: Thanos (Josh Brolin), an enormous, galaxy-trotting warlord who believes the universe would be better off if half of the population was exterminated. His genocidal plans depend on obtaining all six Infinity Stones, their combined power would allow him to reduce life in the universe by half with the literal snap of his fingers.

The action is predictable, with plenty of the usual punchsplosions, collapsing walls, and CGI overload that we’ve become accustomed to. But thankfully the fight sequences aren’t too long … there simply isn’t time for them.  Curiously, a by-product of accommodating an enormous cast seems to be the reduction of tedious fight sequences. However, character development also takes a back seat—a mere luxury squeezed as small as Antman’s undies (who ironically isn’t in this film).  What’s left, however, is Marvel’s intoxicatingly funny brand of humour which keeps pace with the film’s sheer kinetic momentum and culminates in a bold and risky ending (of which my lips are sealed).

Fair to say, I was not expecting much and had to muster all my super-reviewing powers of critical impartiality.  And although Avengers: Infinity War is far from perfect, the result was better than I had anticipated and should satisfy even lukewarm superhero fans.


See more of my NZME reviews here.

I, Tonya

itonyaIt seems the perfect time for Tonya Harding’s story to finally surface onto the big screen.  In the current age of relativism, this personal truth of Harding’s life is to be taken at face value. Right from the opening credits I, Tonya makes clear its intentions as an “irony free, wildly contradictory, totally true” account of Tonya’s story. In fact, the truth may never be known, not by us at least. But in Tonya’s own words “there’s no such thing as truth. I mean it’s bullsh*t. Everyone has their own truth and life just does whatever the f*ck it wants.” … which perfectly sums up this film’s sassy tone.

Most will already know the events surrounding the infamous scandal of Olympic ice-skaters Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan.  But less is known about the events leading up to the incident.  Physically abused from a young age by her mother and later in life by her husband, Tonya’s rough start moulded her into a belligerent, naive, self-confessed redneck that didn’t give an inch. Her side of the story is presented through mockumentary-style interviews with the key players, including Tonya (Margot Robbie), her husband Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan) and Harding’s mother LaVona Golden (Allison Janney)—all who clarify events leading up to the “planned” kneecapping of rival skater Nancy Kerrigan. The incident made headlines around the world and defined the careers of the two Olympic ice-skaters.

Director Craig Gillespie’s (Lars and the Real Girl) visually charged approach is perfectly partnered with Steven Rogers’ punch-and-duck screenplay, resulting in a film that ebbs and flows effortlessly throughout. And although at times it relies too heavily on its emotive soundtrack, it packs enough kinetic wallop and alluring fourth-wall breaking (which at times includes us, the media frenzied public, complicit in her abuse), to keep you engaged.

It’s difficult to know how the real events behind closed doors actually played out, but one thing’s for sure; I, Tonya presents Harding’s “truth” as a feisty tale of dark humour and tragedy that proves to be an absorbing romp from start to finish.

Read the full review for the NZ Herald here.