Tag Archives: Actor

Time Freak

[4 stars]

Romance, comedy, and time travel, especially when wrapped in honesty and told with some intelligence, is a triumverate always guaranteed to grab my attention. Unlike the recent Palm Springs, the character intent here is deliberate, but they both deliver the story in a similar way that let’s you connect with it immediately and get on board for the ride.

The story, despite its scope, is really driven by just three characters. Asa Butterfield (Slaughterhouse Rulez) and Sophie Turner (X-Men: Dark Phoenix) are the romantic crux of the story. And while that may sound like an odd combo, it’s supposed to be. And yet the two have a believable chemistry between them. More surprisingly, it comes mostly from Turner’s performance, which is the best I’ve seen her do. I actually believed her completely, something all of her previous performances have lacked for me. Butterfield is playing into his strengths in this film, but does so with heartfelt earnestness that wins you over.

While the main couple certainly carries the story forward and keeps it focused, Skyler Gisondo (Santa Clarita Diet) adds the final element that makes it all work: comic relief and, often, common sense. This is especially amusing as he’s a complete screw-up. This isn’t the basis for comedy I usually enjoy, but it works here due to its restraint and evolution. Even Will Peltz’s (In Time) side character, as extreme as he takes it, manages to find ground often enough to add to the depth of the tale rather than distract from it.

Writer/director Andrew Bowler expanded his Oscar nominated short into this truly delightful and funny exploration of life, love, and relationships. The cleverly written script spends the first third in familiar territory. And, honestly, even if it hadn’t expanded on that, I would have enjoyed the movie thanks to his control of the performances and pace. But it is Bowler’s willingness to try to explore the characters and plot more deeply that makes this particular run at the sub-genre something worth seeing.

When you need something enjoyable and not entirely devoid of logic and intelligence, queue this one up. You won’t be sorry.

Inheritance (2020)

[2.5 stars]

There is only one reason to see this rather predictable, if nicely tense, movie…and that’s Simon Pegg (Slaughterhouse Rulez). His complete transformation and performance is really quite amazing.

Unfortunately, the rest of the cast isn’t quite so engaging. Lily Collins (Tolkien) is completely miscast as a highly respected and tough NYC DA. She just doesn’t have that gravitas…and her reactions through much of the story are, well, not from a woman who should be more  prepossessed. Chace Crawford (The Boys) is fine, but sadly typecast in his role; there are no surprises there.

And then there’s the story. To be honest, as director Vaughn Stein’s follow-up to his more stylish and satisfying Terminal, I was rather disappointed. His handling of the script is fine, but he should have pushed for something beyond the obvious. There was an opportunity for a more interesting conclusion that was completely missed. By taking it just one more step to complete Collins’ journey, a bland and obvious ending could have been elevated; but that isn’t what’s on offer.

Certainly, there is some good tension and by-play in this piece, but I can’t really recommend the cost of nearly two hours. However, if you do tune in, Pegg alone may keep you nailed to your seat to stick it out. Just don’t expect revelation at the conclusion, merely an ending.

Sometimes Always Never

[4 stars]

Let’s face it, just about anything with Bill Nighy (Emma.) is worth watching just for him. Often it is only a taste of Nighy as a smaller side character. But in this film he and Sam Riley (Radioactive) share this story of family and survivorship. Both men play against their typical type, though Riley is a bit more consistent at it; Nighy’s accent kept slipping. However, both provide endearing and riveting performances as they verbally spar and converse.

The cast is also gifted with Jenny Agutter (Call the Midwife) and Alice Lowe (Black Mirror: Bandersnatch) who swirl around the two men with funny and poignant moments. Neither is given full rein, but both have impact and are part of why the film works so well. Even the young Louis Healy helps fill out the film nicely with minimal time.

As a first feature, Carl Hunter directs the tale with a confident hand and a delightfully playful vision. Despite the intense emotions of the story in Frank Cottrell Boyce’s (Goodbye Christopher Robin) script, Hunter keeps it all quietly real and funny. Also, the design of the film is breathtaking, from the wide vistas, to the distortion from the lenses, to the odd greenscreen and paper puppetry, it’s a unique combination of visuals that serve to amplify the story. Even the color pallet is retimed in order to make it, to put it mildly, bilious.

I didn’t know what to expect going into this story, and that was fine. I’d suggest you do the same. Go for the comedy and the sweet sense of family it creates. Stay for the performances, message, and the wonderfully odd presentation; but make time for this.

Charlotte Gray

[3 stars]

This is a fairly standard, though gorgeously filmed, WWII espionage/love story, with few surprises. What makes it worth seeing is Cate Blanchett (Where’d You Go Bernadette). The 2001 season was a good one for Blanchett. The month prior, she’d wow’d audiences with her Galadriel, which would permanently set the tone of her screen presence.  When she steps on screen, regardless of character, she dominates; confident, radiant, terrifyingly in control. But in Charlotte Gray, she starts, uncharacteristically, weak and grows into her role without ever quite becoming that pillar of power. It’s almost like watching the growth of Blanchett as she matured into a star.

The rest of the cast is quite the list as well. With Billy Crudup (After the Wedding), Michael Gambon (Sylvia), Rupert Penry-Jones (Whitechapel), and Anton Lesser (Endeavour) driving the main plot with Blanchett, and a slew of others around them, the movie is packed with talent. These are all great reasons to spend time in Vichy France. In fact, given our current world politics, it’s a good time to be reminded why that form of collaboration and conciliatory/accommodating  attitude can be so destructive.

Director Gillian Armstrong (Little Women (1994)) managed the story well. She certainly helped guide her actors through complex challenges without ever quite having them tip over into melodrama. But she couldn’t quite escape the obvious. Even if there were moments of surprise, they were almost all tipped or inevitable. Really, her triumph in this is the evolution of Blanchett’s character. For that it is worth your time.

Charlotte Gray Poster

State of the Union

[4 stars]

When Nick Hornby (Juliet, Naked, High Fidelity) and Stephen Frears (Victoria & Abdul) decided to tackle the meaning and humor of marriage in ten 10-minute segments, you can be sure it will be both insightful and biting. Now make it, generally, a two-person show with Rosamund Pike (Radioactive) and Chris O’Dowd (Juliet, Naked) and the delivery is guaranteed to entertain.

To be fair, O’Dowd was a bit of an easy choice here. He’s playing into all his strengths, and is somewhat reprising his role in Juliet, Naked. Pike, however, has created a woman taut with guilt, doubt, and bound by her own upbringing.

Each segment is a week apart, covering a 10-week course of therapy for the couple. And each segment manages to provide mountains of information about their relationship and each other. It is a credit to all four that so many levels can be exposed with subtext, looks, and smart dialogue.

Admittedly, the longer you’ve been married, the more there is to get from the 100 or so minutes of the whole series. It hits on truths and fears that only 10+ years of living with a spouse can manifest. Absent that, it’s a simply a fun tale that is easy to digest and satisfying to laugh with and at. And probably a show worth coming back to at different points in your life.

State of the Union Poster

Radioactive

[3 stars]

What saves this oddly structured biopic from falling apart, like The Current War did, is the sheer will and power of Rosamund Pike (A Private War) and Sam Riley (Maleficent: Mistress of Evil). Their performances, particularly Pike’s, are endlessly fun to watch and feel raw and honest rather than forced. This is no small feat as Marie was driven and blunt; but Pike finds all the layers of that drive, making her focus only an aspect of her character and depicting this strong woman as a whole person. Too often historical women are shown in wildly different moments just to bring out their “womanhood” in order to appease the audience. Not so here…Pike is a complete person all along; abrasive at times, but in a way that feels like there’s someone real underneath it rather than just a mask or a different human each time we see her in different situations, for instance: family vs. work.

There are also a couple of nice, smaller performances. Anya Taylor-Joy (Emma.), Simon Russell Beale (The Death of Stalin), and Katherine Parkinson (Humans) are the ones to note. And I will add that Riley is practically unrecognizable in his role of Pierre Curie, whom he imbues with a fierce intelligence and a complicated approach to the mores of the time.

Admittedly, depicting the lives of complex people is always a challenge. Just look at the recent biopics of Freddy Mercury and Elton John. Both movies were by the same director, but each had utterly different approaches in an attempt to capture the men and their impact. Jack Thorne’s (Wonder) script of Marie Curie’s life, in its attempt to do the same, is both fascinating and baffling. Fortunately it was smoothly tackled by Marjane Satrapi (The Voices), who is adept at slipping back and forth between wildly different aspects of a tale when she directs.

The challenge with the story is that it attempts to show the long-term impact Curie’s discoveries had. Since some of the most impactful applications and issues didn’t even begin to become common till 20 years after her death, it presented a problem. The solution Thorne and Satrapi settled on was to intercut future scenes with the contemporary.

This had two effects. First, it forced commentary around the Curie’s efforts that wasn’t there at the time and blurs the their truth. And, second, it creates an odd fantasy during the end of M. Curie’s final moments that felt wrong to me. In other words we’re forced to see her life through historical eyes and lose a good deal of the contextual reality.

But despite any issues these choices caused, the performances of the two leads is truly wonderful and worth the time to see the film. Also, while some of the Curies’ life is taught to children, a lot of it is missed in school. The family is truly extraordinary, and the story they were a part of is both inspirational and horrifying.

Radioactive Poster

The Old Guard

[3.5 stars]

Oh, hell yeah. I know it’s a riff on Highlander, but it’s great to see a story that at least tries to think about implications and does it with a solid cast and director. Gina Prince-Bythewood (Secret Life of Bees, Love and Basketball) took Greg Rucka’s (Stumptown, Whiteout) adaptation of his own graphic novel and gave us a solid (potential) franchise launch. It also is a strong example of what a good “comic book” movie can be.

With Charlize Theron (Bombshell) in the star-power lead, we are introduced to a motley group of warriors and their stories. Matthias Schoenaerts(The Mustang), Marwan Kenzari (Aladdin), and Luca Marinelli (Trust) are the rest of her long-standing cadre. But the main focus is on KiKi Layne (If Beale Street Could Talk), the newcomer. Even with the solid ensemble work, it’s through Layne that we learn, as she does, about the Old Guard, their place in the world, and their perspective. Throw Chiwetel Ejiofor (Maleficent: Mistress of Evil) into the mix and you’ve a powerhouse cast. Frankly, the only sour note in the movie is Harry Melling (The Ballad of Buster Scruggs) who tries to give us a big bad to hate yet understand, but ends up picking furniture out of his teeth.

Still, the balance of amazing fights and discussion, as well as a wicked sense of humor, keep you engaged and wanting more. This has amazing potential to spin out stories, if the writing is maintained. Even with the obvious branch to the ending/beginning (as this is a sort of origin story) I exited the credits wanting to see the next tale to come. Netflix definitely made a great choice grabbing this one. And much like Extraction (and unlike 6 Underground), they’ve got bones to build on, if they can keep their casts and do it with a care to keeping the quality up.

The Old Guard Poster

Ophelia

[3.5 stars]

Retellings of well-established tales have been all the rage for the last decade or two in books and film. And it’s about time, with the current climate, that someone gave Ophelia her due… especially as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern already had the opportunity decades ago (more than once). This movie is actually a double adaptation… first as a book, and then into this screen version by first-timer Semi Chellas; but it retains its deep roots to Shakespeare.

The movie is decidedly female-driven, with Daisy Ridley (Murder on the Orient Express, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker) in the title role. She brings a steeley mind and brave innocence to the part as she slips in and around the play as we know it. And Naomi Watts (The Impossible) gives life and layers to Queen Gertrude that I’ve never seen. She is far from the purely manipulating and unfaithful woman that Shakespeare suggested, though she is also aware and culpable. And Clive Owen (Gemini Man) gives them both a solid foil to beat against.

With this new perspective on the story, Hamlet himself, George MacKay (1917), is practically a cipher, though MacKay imbues him with some significant drive and levels with his brief appearances. Brief moments from the original play provide us milestones of where we are in the tale and set context for Ophelia’s perspective. Some jibe with what we think we know and others are informed by the skewed narrative. The relatively unknown Devon Terrell, as Horatio…always the naive explainer of all things Hamlet…adds some nice depth to the story and bridges the action for Ophelia. One nice surprise is Sebastian De Souza (The Great) in a loathsome role which he pulls off smoothly.

Admittedly, there aren’t a lot of surprises as the alternative perspectives unfold. The foreshadowing and clues are not very subtle. But, then again, there aren’t many surprises in Hamlet anymore either, it’s so well known. Ultimately it’s rather satisfying how it all comes together without having to change the original tale. However, watching this female driven story where the women control their own destinies, but not the world around them, is an interesting experience. It keeps the integrity of Hamlet as we know it, but finally provides a full sense of personhood about the women, who have always been so key to Hamlet’s tale.

Ophelia Poster

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains

[3 stars]

I don’t know whether to be impressed or disturbed that this movie still works after almost 40 years. Its points still hold and its humor is still on point. Not bad for Lou Adler’s (Up in Smoke) only second directing gig. And it has some fairly good music performances in it as well.

But, message and amusement aside, it is the cast that wows you. Not because they deliver such great performances…they’re reasonable. But the main cast are young stars that were all near the beginning of their careers. Diane Lane (Serenity) is the front person for the Stains; a young woman with an axe to grind and a desire to succeed. She’s joined by Laura Dern (Marriage Story) and one of Marin Kanter’s few performances. And then there are early appearances of Christine Lahti (Operator) and Ray Winstone (Point Break) as well.

This isn’t a great movie, but it is surprisingly effective for all its lo-fi, indie feel. It captures a small sense of the era, and takes some wicked swipes at the music industry. When you have time and want to spelunk the early 80s and the Punk/New Wave movement in a light way, it is a fun and entertaining view.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains Poster

My Spy

[3.5 stars]

I kicked off this Dave Bautista (Hotel Artemis) comedy/actioner half-flinching and sure it was going to be painfully unwatchable. It surprised me. The production quality is solid (it was going to be a wide release before the pandemic upended everything), but the trailers hadn’t given me any confidence in the movie.

As it turns out, their marketing folks should have had more faith in their product. It’s really pretty entertaining, especially thanks to the scarily competent Chloe Coleman (Upload). No 11-year-old should be that smooth an actor. But she and Bautista make an amusing pairing. As her mother, Parisa Fitz-Henley (Midnight, Texas, Luke Cage) is also solid, funny, and believable in a not very believable plot.

And that’s where the shame really is in this movie. A bit more effort  on the script to make it credible rather than silly and it would have been so much more. Kristen Schaal (A Walk in the Woods) and Ken Jeong (Wonder Park), in particular, were well reined in by director Peter Segal. They were actually almost human. However, though they were funny at times, I refuse to discuss how painfully outlandish Noah Dalton Danby and Devere Rogers were.

My real frustration was the specifics of the plot: how operations worked, what decisions were made, etc. Those were just absurd at times. I don’t even think kids were being fooled by the flawed logic. Given the script is from Erich and Jon Hoeber (The Meg), you have some sense of what you’re in for.

But squint through that stuff, and you get a funny, at time heart-warming, bit of comedy action that is a fine 90 minutes of fun. Brilliant? No, but certainly not a complete time waste for what it is. And Coleman’s performance alone is worth the time.

My Spy Poster