Tag: Stellan Skarsgard

The Man Who Killed Don Quixote

tmwkdqIt’s been three decades in the making but Terry Gilliam has finally done it! For so long, the spectre of cinematic death has loomed large over his project but the fact that The Man Who Killed Don Quixote has been released at all represents a marvel of Directorial tenacity. It certainly was an ambitious assignment, made more so by some spectacular bad luck; illness, floods, financial difficulties and a number of other studio ailments. But finally it’s here and it’s wonderful to see Gilliam having the last laugh…. even if his film isn’t very good.

Quixote is unmistakably a Gilliam film, popping and fizzing with the ex-Python’s eccentric grandeur. A testament to its lengthy gestation, the film runs the stylistic gamut of his back-catalogue; breathing the leathery pungency of Time Bandits, the derailed loopiness of Brazil and the woozy nausea of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

The story (confused as it is), operates as a fevered auto-biopic of a Director’s arm-wrestle with his art. Adam Driver plays Toby, an aspiring feature Director who has been put out to pasture on a diet of advertising work. Cynical of his vocation and struggling for motivation, he relives his past through a chance job located in rural Spain where his career began. The film blurs the lines between reality and fantasy as he reconnects with a village cobbler who thinks he is the famed Don Quixote de la Mancha (played by the wonderful Jonathan Pryce). Toby’s flirtation with Quixote’s delusions leads them both down a comical path of madness and redemption.

Quixote’s grand visual style is undoubtedly mesmerising, but unfortunately the writing bloats a production already struggling to support the weight of its troubled past, unduly hampering it with swathes of incoherence too bothersome to wade through. Indeed, when Driver exclaims midway through the film “This is insane!”, I think he might’ve mistaken his line for a margin note. Alas, Gilliam has clearly suffered from his lengthy stare down this production’s endless rabbit hole. And despite periods of biting comedy and some delightful old-school production heft, this is a project that would’ve been better to have died on the vine.

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

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Borg vs. McEnroe

bvmSeldom do sports dramas work. They tend to be clunky efforts at condensing hours of sporting action into a few minutes whilst explaining the rules of engagement for those unfamiliar … oh, and leaving enough room to tell an engaging story.   Although Borg vs. McEnroe suffers from these problems, it packs just enough narrative punch to elevate itself from the pack.

Swedish Director Janus Mets has a background in documentaries, so it’s little wonder that he has gravitated towards telling a story “inspired by true events”. The intense rivalry between the two tennis greats, Björn Borg and John McEnroe, is no secret, nor is the result of the Wimbledon final around which the film focusses. But where the film covers new ground is in telling the background of the two.

The film examines two wildly different sporting philosophies—the brash expressive American versus the cool focussed Swede. However, it was interesting to learn that both had similar temperaments in their adolescent years, often succumbing to wild outbursts and unsavoury on-court antics. Although, Borg was taught at a young age by his coach, Lennart Bergelin (played by the evergreen Stellan Skarsgård) to channel his anger through his stroke play. McEnroe, as many know, did quite the opposite, emptying his anger all over the court, the crowd, and the umpire. Part of the film’s success is due to the casting of Shia LaBeouf in the role of McEnroe.  His brattish off-screen persona bleeds so well into the on-screen tennis rascal and when he famously berates the umpire’s “seriousness”, it’s a genuine pleasure to watch. By contrast, the very Hiddlestonesque looking Sverrir Gudnason plays an ice cool Borg holding it all in.

Unfortunately, the complexities of serving up a sports drama proves one rally too many and the film overcooks its own melodramatic remedies; lots of contemplative stares into mirrors, anguish on the training run, torment in the post-run shower, and other yearning moments become a tad overbearing. Like a number one player, this tennis film is better than the rest but still doesn’t feel good enough.

   

You can see my published reviews 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.