Posts Tagged ‘Emily Mortimer’

Shutter Island: Martin Scorsese finally tips his hat to the horror genre with the terrifying thriller that is Shutter Island. While the film lends itself to a few logical fallacies here and there, especially during the twist at the end, it remains consistently entertaining. Scorsese has always played it easy with casting decisions, often employing the safest of actors. Between Leonardo DiCaprio, Ben Kingsley, Emily Mortimer and Patricia Clarkson he has four of the most consistent actors of the past two decades; not brilliant, mind you, but outrageously competent, no matter what their roles are. Truth be told, DiCaprio does overact a bit but he’s still compensating for Titanic, so we can steadfastly forgive him for impersonating a kid who just saw a unicorn wink at him. Mark Ruffalo, on the other hand, is almost unwatchable, with his portrayal of servility dangerously reaching Samwise Gamgee-level of unprovoked homo-eroticism. Emily Mortimer and Patricia Clarkson, with their beady eyes writing stories with the mechanical grace of a typewriter, walk away with the finest performances of the lot…yes, even better than the sinister charm of Kingsley and Max von Sydow. Thrillers that invest heavily on the unpredictability of twists expose themselves to the risk of falling short of expectations, but here when Scorsese yells “peek-a-boo” at us towards the end, we end up feeling silly for not having predicted it. And that, my scholarly vermin, is the mark of a good thriller. Not great, mind you, but spectacularly satisfying.

Defendor: Sorry, my batty comrades, Dark Knight isn’t the greatest superhero film ever made anymore, Peter Stebbings’ Defendor is. Technically it is a film about a man trying to act like a superhero, but Defendor is no more a catharsis on fighting crime than films on men wearing bat costumes and tight underwear with customized logos are. It gets us drunk on the trusted concoction of comedy and tragedy and is likely to have the more sensitive ones reaching for a tissue paper/cigarette lighter/glass of whiskey towards the end. Woody Harrelson, in his best performance since Raymond Barnell’s The Big White, plays Arthur Poppington, a sweet-natured, slow-witted traffic worker by day and a delusional superhero at night. He truly is one of the best modern actors to have survived Hollywood and he shows it here by making us care about superheroes in a way that would have been difficult to fathom, considering the most critically acclaimed (and highest grossing) film based on a comic book is a two-trick pony. The truth is, The Dark Knight, without Heath Ledger or Maggie Gyllenhaal, would have been hard to digest; in hindsight everything else just seems too needy about wanting to reflect the global stand on terrorism.

Defendor wants to do no such thing. It is far too kind in its approach to nurse any profane moral agendas. It’s just a story about a simpleton looking to change the world, one dent on the bad guy’s forehead at a time. Arthur has no superpowers, neither the wisdom of wise butlers nor infinite knowledge of martial arts. He has a reluctant sidekick in the form of a crack-addicted prostitute, Ms Kat, which gives way for some wonderful acting by Kat Dennings who makes ghostly-pale look cherubic and unnaturally sexy. The vastly underrated Elias Koteas (from Law and Order: SVU) is deeply committed to playing a sleazy NY cop and ends up exactly as we would have wanted him to, hateful, violent and deserving of Defendor’s rage. Michael Kelly, who plays Arthur’s co-worker and friend, and Sandra Oh, who plays his psychiatrist, are promptly forgotten due to no fault of their own. Even the plot plays second fiddle to Woody Harrelson’s acting; only Michael Stuhlbarg (A Serious Man) and Patton Oswalt (Big Fan) have come close to giving a performance as honest and restrained as this one. A special word of mention to composer John Rowley too; his original musical scores are a perfect foil for us to pledge our allegiance to Defendor.

Tenure: Luke Wilson has this habit of playing small-town guys with big-time problems. In Mike Million’s Tenure , he plays Charlie Thurber, an English professor competing for tenure with his new colleague. His buddy Jay Hardley (David Koechner), when he isn’t busy trying to locate the whereabouts of Bigfoot, tries to help Charlie out, even at the expense of his own standing, however thin that ice maybe, in the college community. Gretchen Mol, who plays the new hotshot professor vying for the same tenure, looks absolutely gorgeous. Her melancholic expressions evoke a sort of longing that made Virginia Madsen unbearably beautiful to look at in Sideways. Shawshank’s mean prison warden – Bob Gunton – has a few great scenes as Mr Thurber, Charlie’s inexplicably morose dad. Everything is in fact fine and dandy until the very end where an explosion of clichés haphazardly brings the curtains down. Happy endings very rarely work because that isn’t how most of us look at the world. It wasn’t as though the Thurber family had suffered a tragedy grievous enough for the audience to want to see with the sun shining brightly on them right before the end credits roll; it just seems like the director took the easiest route by giving such unnecessary closure. Maybe he should have watched The Station Agent to understand how that is PERFECTLY done.

Leaves Of Grass: Director Tim Blake Nelson also happens to be one of my favourite comedic actors in recent times. His slow-burn timing of punchlines rivals that of the brilliant Michael Jeter and has worked fantastically well in films like O Brother Where Art Thou, The Darwin Awards and The Moguls. Unfortunately he’s about the only consistent performer in his latest film – Leaves Of Grass, which is quite surprisingly since it also stars Edward ‘Mr Consistent’ Norton in a dual role. Too bad a crappy accent and an all-too convenient storyline leaves him lurking about, looking like he wants to do little else than chew gum. In Leaves Of Grass, he plays both Bill Kincaid, a clean-cut Ivy League professor and his twin brother Brady, a free-spirited prodigious marijuana cultivator, two obviously polar opposites inexplicably brought together for devious purposes, thusly giving way to a heady mix of irony and poetic justice. Sheeeesh haven’t we seen this enough in Rajnikanth movies during the Eighties? To make it worse, Susan Sarandon shows up and spits existential venom every 15 minutes to thoroughly irritate me. Only Richard Dreyfuss as Pug Rothbaum – the angry Jew and Blake Nelson as Bolger – the redneck right-hand man, bring any sort of awesomeness, with their bug-eyed intensity.

Roger Ebert’s four-stars description definitely leaves me confused. He must have smoked some Grade-A weed to call it “a sweet, wacky masterpiece that takes all sorts of risks” because from where I stand, it is a sugary, tacky piece of lazy film-making. It just goes to show that films that rehash storylines, no matter how intelligent or well-crafted they are, will remain glaringly susceptible to staleness.

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A Serious Man: Some 30 minutes before the film comes to an end in a breathtaking display of disquieting beauty, Professor Larry Gopnik hesitantly breaks down in front of a receptionist, pleading his case, a life of anxiety and misfortune that too, to seek advice from a wise old Rabbi. “This is not a frivolous request. This is a ser- I’m a ser- I’m, uh, I’ve tried to be a serious man, you know? Tried to do right, be a member of the community, raise the- Danny, Sarah, they both go to school, Hebrew school, a good breakfast… just tell him I need help. Please? I need help” he fumbles to the cranky bespectacled lady, which leads to the Rabbi nonchalantly turning down his request. The expression on Gopnik’s face needs to be stored alongside William Macy’s dejected broken-nose expression from Magnolia and Daniel Auteuil’s shell-shocked stare from Caché as a template for young actors learning how to turn in an honest performance without seeming theatrical about it. Michael Stuhlbarg, who plays Prof. Larry, has rightfully had his performance praised to Olam Haba and back by movie critics all over; flat-out great acting that takes more than one viewing to understand the effort he has put in to do justice to Larry’s desolation. Halfway through the film I actually started rooting for his life to spiral further out of control just to see him suffer some more; Stuhlbarg is just fantastic as the modern-day Job who ironically gets screwed by everyone but his God.

Sari Lennick is suitably hateful as Mrs Gopnik, the pocket-size Amish version of the Desperate Wives. Fred Melamed is hilarious as Sy Ableman, Larry’s wife-grabbing friend; the way he flares his nostriles whenever he politely patronizes Larry is truly sleazy and worthy of a barrelful of laughs.  Richard Kind tunes in a seriously good performance, as well, as Arthur – Larry’s middle-aged sad savant of a brother. Thankfully, we don’t get a retarded feel-good Rain Man sequence…instead we get what Henry Thoreau once endlessly babbled about, the cold, inconsequential truth. Also, major kudos to the directors for not blowing the Arthur character out of proportion because it could have been the most convenient thing to do, considering how much of a hard-on a presumably intelligent target group of movie-goers would have for quirky, depressed savants.

The film itself is one of the finest that the Coen brothers have ever made. The all-round brilliant acting, ambitiously creepy music and the wry storyline lift A Serious Man above anything else the brothers have done since Barton Fink. Really funny stuff in here, as well, with the actors making the one-liners sound funnier than we could have imagined. IMDB says the Coen brothers now have their sights on Charles Portis’ True Grit, an unflinching Western tale of vengeance, and if it’s half as good as this one, I’d be much happier being a serious man.

Observe & Report: I love it when a film jumps at me, mauls every one of my misconceptions, leaving me wanting a fat guy with one of those “I Am With Stupid” T-Shirts next to me. Observe and Report is a film that can leave your head spinning if you watched it with preconceived expectations or rather the lack of. Considering that the film is directed by the guy who made the hilariously retarded The Foot Fist Way and starrs Seth Rogen, Patton Oswalt and Anna Faris, I wouldn’t blame you for having presumed that it was a PG 18-rated version of Steve Carr’s Paul Bart: Mall Cop which was released in the same year. Well technically it could be, but the adult rating has more to do with the spectacular brutality of the film’s catharsis than with any erstwhile penis joke or nipple slips. Observe and Report has some serious intensity going its away and barely pulls any punches with its storyline. The film follows Ronnie Barnhardt, a maniac depressive mall cop who takes his job very seriously, on a violent and complicated journey to rid the mall off a devious flasher. By vulgarizing the sanctity of the mall, which has been a warm spring of comfort in Ronnie’s otherwise miserable life – the flasher quietly sets off a tiny spark in Ronnie’s head that threatens to explode into a catastrophe at the slightest behest of a reality check. Seth Rogen gives his best performance since playing the crazy jock in Donnie Darko. I am dam near shocked that he could be this intense; his burst of anger are chilling as is the creepy romance he shares with Anna Faris, who much like Seth, hasn’t look this good since her indie days. Their “controversial” sex scene looks as deliriously uncomfortable as Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg going at it the second time around in Antichrist and just as necessary; definitely a contender for the creepiest scene of the year in a motion picture.

The supporting cast chips in nicely too, with Patton Oswalt, Ray Liotta (who does good cop-bad cop shtick all by himself), the Yuan brothers and Collette Wolfe doing their bit to make this film less about one man’s descent into madness. The ending works itself in quite beautifully, with Nada Surf’s version of Pixies’ Where Is My Mind playing in the background as the film’s twisted perception of poetic justice shows up one last time to say goodbye. Now, about those folks who have been talking about all the “unnecessary violence” portrayed in Observe And Report, I just wish they would pack their satchels and move out of the safety bubble they call home. Our world is genuinely screwed up and many a times comically so; I can only appreciate filmmakers for recognizing the irony. If Seth Rogen’s man-child antics and a few pools of blood are too much for them to handle, I can only imagine the torture they go through while reading the crime section of their local newspapers.  For the rest of you, minions, who enjoy sparse moments of beauty and peace so much that you are at ease with the high probability of the world clinically sucking the life out of you before you die, you’ll get a real kick out of Ronnie. Observe and grin.

Lars And The Real Girl: The emotional parenthesis that bookends Lars And The Real Girl is forgivable because this one happens to be Craig Gillespie’s debut feature film. Far worse crimes have been committed by directors the first time around, especially considering that Gillespie has indeed steered the film away from turning into an unfunny joke without a punchline. So we have Lars Lindstrom (a strikingly detached performance by Ryan Gosling) who orders this sex doll he finds on the Internet and falls heads over heels in love with it. The thing is to Lars it isn’t a doll at all, it is the soul mate that he has been looking for. Much to the horror of his brother and sister-in-law, Lars goes the distance and gives it a name (Bianca), a background story and a physical handicap to boot.

The problem with Lars And The Real Girl is that towards the end it tries too hard to give emotional closure to its characters. Lars learns a few of life’s lessons, his guilt-ridden brother (Paul Schneider) finally discovers the core of his essence or whatever, his over-protective sister-in-law (Emily Mortimer) resolves a few issues, hell, even Kelli Garner, playing his sitcom-ish office colleague, finds love. A few things are done really nicely though. For instance the portrayal of Bianca’s funeral could have really sucked, but it didn’t – thanks to the script that skips right past the melodrama and the obvious surprises. The actors – Ryan, Emily and Paul – are pleasant to watch, be it in happiness or in sorrow, and at least look genuinely confused when things conveniently work out. I mean, it’s all nice and dandy and I am sure if I knew these people I’d be happy for them for the way things turned out, but as a movie geek, it left me a little disappointed. Simple mathematics, really.  Movie + Happy ending = No Thank You.

Cirque Du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant: Great. First Daybreakers, now this. This one’s remarkably more tragic for me since that it starrs Willem Dafoe AND John C. Reilly – two of my favourite American actors. If Cirque Du Freak didn’t take itself so dam seriously, it would have made for a fun hour and a half. You have John C. Reilly, one of the most obviously funny guys in Hollywood, a character for him called Larten Crepsley, a suave half-vampire who leads a carnival of freaks, and somehow director Paul Weitz decides to take the serious route? Quite possibly, some editor, whose wife ran over his dog with a truck, sat down with the script and cut out all the jokes. I know that the original novel (The Saga of Darren Shan by Darren Shan) wasn’t meant to be funny in any capacity but the text in it was offbeat enough to qualify as wry wit. Cirque Du Freak: The Vampire’s Assitant is at best a vaguely-amusing fantasy drama with dollops of pop psychology thrown in for good measure. Ken Watanabe as Mr. Tall is the only actor who shows any sort of commitment to calm us from the doldrums of his dialogues, but still itis neither significant nor long enough to make this worth a second glance even. Matter of fact even if John Tuturro unexpectedly showed up at your living room, sporting a bad-ass Mexican porn director moustache and juggling Oompa Loompas with their heads on fire, it still wouldn’t help.

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Gritty films are like fine Yak cheese. Tough to chew on and harder to digest. They make you phsyically react. You flinch, make silly faces, bite your fingernails and queasily throw away the popcorn. You indulge in grand soliloquies about how depraved society has become and worse, the extent to which art has become immune to it. Of course, once we are done being assholes, we realize how much we actually enjoyed the stark realism portrayed. Granted that Hollywood is adverse to such when they aren’t generously sprinkled with kitschy emotions, I get my fix from British films. Now maybe I don’t know better, but fewer lands have been prone to cultural nihilism than England. Call it a subconscious colonial hangover, but I’d rather kick a pimp in the groin in Brooklyn without provocation than ask someone for the time in a London subway (unless I’m in Larry Clark’s version of America). Their Punks, Mod-heads, Skinheads and generic beer guzzlers over the decades have seemed much more imposing than their American counterparts. Recently, word is that a new species of juvenile criminals – the hoodies – have been spreading a culture of mindless violence in the night streets of London; so much so that Guardian has written a very nervous article about their impact on British cinema.

Daniel Barber’s Harry Brown brings the sights, sounds and smell of this hoodie culture. Kids in jumper suits do the darndest things in this film. When night draws its curtains, they lurk the subway and desolate streets, knifing elder citizens, throwing flaming dog shit, and purging on drugs, sexual contact and random acts of violence. Michael Caine (Harry Brown) plays a widowed ex-marine at odds with these hoodies. A quiet old man who wants little else in life than a game of chess, a few pints and the memory of his daughter. However, a senseless act of violence against his best mate drives him over the edge as Mr Brown turns into a lone vigilante seeking vengeance against the psychopathic delinquents.

Truth be told, the film takes a turn for the worse from then on. Predictability looms large in the name of street justice and a tiny bit of melodrama seeps in the form of Detective Frampton played by Emily Mortimer. Hell, I didn’t even sit through the end credits, which personally for me, is a litmus test. Still, Harry Brown is going to end up on my list of the best films of 2009.

It’s simple, really. Michael fucking Caine. From channeling his character’s graceful sorrow in the first half and seething rage in the second, the man hasn’t looked this good since Get Carter. Even more fantastic is the transition that takes place midway. Only a truly gifted actor could pull off a Steven Seagal-like Judo move during a pivotal moment in the film and not look like a total jackass.

The other actors also do their bit to save the film’s descent into predictability. Ben Drew (Plan B) and the other hoodies are mean as hell and make you flinch with their lack of sympathy. I’d totally expect the little psychos in Eden Lake to grown into these types. David Bradley is brilliant as Len Atwell, Brown’s best mate, with his doleful grandfather eyes perfectly capturing the fear and loathing that decent folks might feel in a dystopian environment. Only the last few minutes of the film has the actors messing around with cliches as though they have been given clear instructions to make sure that the we reach for the tissue papers. Even then, Michael Caine pulls it off and spouts obligatory one-liners with such dignified grace.

Now look, unless the universe is sucked into a black hole and spat out inexplicably before the Oscar nominees are announced for 2010, the Academy would, in all likeliness, ignore Caine’s performance and instead choose James Cameron in the Best Actor category for having meticulously played “film directors” for over a decade. So to hell with them, Harry ol’ boy…grab a rocking chair, and sit your ass next to Walt Kowalski.

When Cameron thanks his mom and God for creating a film that technically requires no acting whatsoever, lower your shotguns.

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