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Saturday, 27 July 2013

Reitman For The Job



Cutting satire from Jason Reitman who also wrote the screenplay, and he directs an excellent cast, some in blink-and-you'll-miss-it cameos. Aaron Eckhart is every inch the unscrupulous and single-minded PR wiz, sauntering through a slightly chaotic series of episodes, surrounded by a host of well drawn characters. The scenes featuring the cabal of Eckhart, Mario Bello (booze) and David Koechner (guns) are biting, and a triumvirate of Robert Duval, JK Simmons and William H. Macy provide the gravitas (sort of!). As if that wasn't enough to keep your attention, there are appearances by Sam Elliot, Rob Lowe, Dennis Miller and Todd Louiso. Katie Holmes plays reporter with her sights on the protagonist well enough. All in all it's an entertaining piece and should get the grey cells going, but for Reitman it perhaps serves best as a warm up for what followed, namely 'Juno' then 'Up in the Air'.

Where's Liam?

'Unknown' is a solid espionage thriller with a very good cast and excellent locations in Berlin, directed by Jaume Collet-Serra, and preceded by the Spaniard's third film 'Orphan'. Liam is a rock (not The Rock) in the lead, now thoroughly established as a main man in the action movie business, and he has excellent support from Frank Langella, Diane Kruger and January Jones, but it is Bruno Ganz who steals the show in terms of acting chops as a former Stasi officer, indeed the short scene that he shares with Langella is the film's most tense and poignant, superb acting. There’s something of the feel of Roman Polanski’s ‘Frantic’ in the perilous pursuit through a European capital, although this is a grittier affair and probably the better for it. Not to be confused with 'Taken' which is a completely different animal.

Quack, Quack, Ooops

'A Dangerous Method' is an intriguing intellectual ménage a trois, with compelling work by its leads. Keira Knightley, Michael Fassbender and Viggo Mortensen are uniformly excellent, their sparring enlivening the potentially po-faced historical events that lie behind it. But we are in the hands of a master, and there is no danger of David Cronenberg dropping the metaphorical ball as he wrangles Christopher Hampton's screenplay, from his play 'The Talking Cure', from John Kerr's book ' A Dangerous Method' - are you with me? So how should this make us feel? Well it's a highly enjoyable costumed romp through the early days of psychoanalysis, made with flare and driven by strong performances. There is ample opportunity for DC to provide some signature body-shock moments, which he does, and these are central to a brave turn by Keira Knightley, whose performance is the stand-out (arguably topping the Fass himself, no mean feat). ‘Bend It Like Beckham’ this is not, more like 'Love Actually' Cronenberg style.

Made to Last

A heart-warming ode to life in industrial Britain in the late '60's, 'Made in Dagenham' is a superb film, focused on the plight of female workers in a male-dominated world, and the ladies are well and truly to the fore, none more so than a brilliant Sally Hawkins who gives us a quietly determined and ultimately unshakeable character to root for. Geraldine James and Andrea Riseborough are as good in her support, infusing very different parts with careworn vulnerability and indomitable bravado respectively. And the men are by no means made of straw, the always excellent Bob Hoskins is in top form as the wily union rep, while Daniel Mays makes playing second fiddle an art as the sidelined husband, and there is a rousing performance when Richard Schiff makes a delightfully unexpected appearance as the uncaring American exec. It would be easy to go on rhyming off wonderful turns by fine members of the cast, but two more must be singled out for attention. Miranda Richardson is superbly short-tempered and impatient as woman-at-the-top Barbara Castle, and Roger Lloyd-Pack's performance is a heart-wrenching reminder of a war not so long past at that time. In the end 'Made in Dagenham' is a triumph on many levels, and great credit must go to writer William Ivory and director Nigel Cole, it is worth watching for the production design alone. Made in Britain, Rule Britannia, God Save the Queen, etc.

Friday, 26 July 2013

The 'more the Merrier

Delighful and occasionally infuriating, 'Rushmore' is another Andersonian gem, littered with challenges to the conventions and roles of adulthood. Jason Schwartzman teeters on the brink of believability as Max Fischer, seeming at times to be straining against the physical aspects of the part, but in the end this conceit (JS was only 3 years older than Max at the time) is can be accepted as events breeze past it. All the roles are beautifully inhabited by a fine cast, Bill Murray seemingly effortless as usual, Olivia Williams quietly captivating. The smaller parts tend to flit in and out of the story, but always to great effect and staying in the memory, they contribute to a sweet and highly enjoyable piece with a riproaring conclusion. As expected, the soundtrack is a chocolate box of unexpected but carefully chosen treats, knitted together with original music by Devo's Mark Mothersbaugh. Rushmore is a  great pleasure after some initial annoyance, when parents in the audience may have the urge to react to Max's petulance, but it's nicely judged, another diamond on the already glittering path followed by fans of the Fantastic Mr. Wes.

Friday, 5 July 2013

Show Me The Moneyball

'Moneyball' is a good addition to the great pantheon of sports movies, to the credit of to-die-for writing team of Aaron Sorkin and Steve Zaillian, who do their best to refrain from trotting out the old sports movie clichés (there might be the odd one). Director Bennett Miller does not drop the ball, assembling a good looking film that does for sports stats what ‘The West Wing’ did for politics – look for greatness in the future from the man whose previous and first directing job was ‘Capote’.

A particularly nice touch is the interweaving of flashbacks to the back story of Pitt’s ‘Billy Beane’ through the events of the first act. Brad evokes strong memories of Robert Redford in ‘The Natural’, not just in his physical appearance (increasingly craggy) but in his unhurried delivery and deceptively casual style.

The best elements of 'Moneyball' are the conflicts, especially the head butting between Brad Pitt and the Oakland A’s staff (notably Philip Seymour Hoffman), which is crackling – but without the histrionics of say ‘Any Given Sunday’ (although that has its place). Notably, Jonah Hill puts in a nicely judged performance, good to see him in a serious roll, fitting comfortably in the room with Pitt and Hoffman.

At the bottom of the ninth, 'Moneyball' is everything that 'Jerry Maguire' is not. The characters are engaging and the dead pan humour is glorious. Highly recommended.