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Bridge of Spies

It’s James B. Donovan (played by Tom Hanks) is an unassuming insurance lawyer with a settled life, great family and nice home. One day he’s going about his normal business negotiating insurance claims when his boss Thomas Watters Jr (by Alan Alda) calls him into his office and offers him an opportunity that’s impossible to refuse. He was once successful in negotiating a great outcome that involved high level political stakeholders – now the US Government wants him to do it again. He’s recruited by the CIA as a defence lawyer to represent Rudolf Abel (by Mark Rylance) – a suspected Soviet Agent charged with spying and sharing US secrets with his own government. Abel is the most pleasant and calm of men, who looks like he wouldn’t hurt a fly – far less work as a Soviet spy. Donovan provides his defence and in the face of political influence he gives him a fair representation, true to his own morals and ethics. During the hearings, he realises there may be more at stake here than first appears so he appeals to the CIA. Then when US pilot Francis Gary Powers is arrested alive in the Soviet Union after his plane is shot down during a mission, things get far more intense with much higher stakes. This is the story of James B. Donovan’s involvement in the negotiation in an attempt to secure the safe release of Powers.

This movie promises much and the performances are good – as James B. Donovan, Tom Hanks is as strong as ever and Mark Rylance puts in a remarkable performance as Rudolf Abel.  He really deserves the awards he received for this effort from the various film critics’ societies of Boston, Indiewire, London, US National, New York, Phoenix, Toronto and Vancouver. It’s good to see Alan Alda here too, he does well. But, for me it somehow fails to deliver in full. I know it’s a true story – and it’s a good story – but the suspense is not there for me. Having said that though, I did find it a good movie to watch all the same. I may be on my own in that regard as not only has Mark Rylance been universally praised, but the movie itself has been nominated for several Academy Awards (Oscars) and has already received “Movie of the Year” awards from the AFI and the National Board of Review. The Boston Online Film Critics Association gave it 7th place in of the “Ten Best Films of the Year” and director Steven Spielberg won the Heartland Film Truly Moving Picture Award. Cinematography, Sound and Images have also been awarded by the Hollywood Film Awards and the Women Film Critics Circle Awards. So it might be just me …

Made in 2015.  Directed by Steven Spielberg.

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Posted by on January 28, 2016 in Movies

 

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Black Mass

If there’s anything young Bostonians learn, it’s that “mates stick together, no matter what …”.  It’s no different for John Connolly (played by Joel Edgerton) and James “Whitey” Bulger (by Johnny Depp) who grow up together on the streets of South Boston. They stay in touch, but their paths go separate ways. Years later, in the late 1970s, Connolly and “Whitey” meet again as adults. Connolly’s already made a name for himself in the FBI – and Whitey’s become a notorious Irish Mobster across South Boston. When the Italian Mob start to gain power in the area, Whitey and Connolly do everything they can to fight back and retain the turf. They form a strong alliance and resist the Italian Mob. Their loyalty knows no bounds – it’s stronger than geographic and legal limits and involves them in a downward spiral of crime, murder, drugs and power. Connolly navigates the fine line between keeping his career intact and living with his long-held loyalty, while Bulger’s double-life gets complex – at home he’s a calm and caring family man while at work his activities get more and more violent, eventually landing him on the FBI’s “Ten Most Wanted” list.

This is your run-of-the-mill “notorious gangster versus FBI” movie – but with two key features … first, Whitey Bulger is played by a totally unrecognisable Johnny Depp – it’s remarkable and you’d never really know it’s Depp. There’s something weirdly artificial about his performance too – it’s not the makeup, it’s about his behaviour, he’s often like a cold, clinical robot. Second, this frightening story is true – the guy brutally and violently operated in South Boston for decades. Joel Edgerton’s performance is very strong – he really deserves the Hollywood Film Award for Breakthrough Actor and the Virtuoso Award from the Santa Barbara International Film Festival 2016. The movie also received the Hollywood Film Editor of the Year Award. Johnny Depps’ portrayal of Bulger is magnificent. He’s totally believable and thoroughly deserves the Palm Springs International Film Festival Palm Achievement Award and the People’s Choice Award for Favourite Dramatic Movie Actor – also much more. Benedict Cumberbatch’s role as Billy Bulger, Whitey’s brother, doesn’t add a whole lot to it.  As a story, it’s just average – but the performances are great.

Made in 2015. Directed by Scott Cooper.

 
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Posted by on January 25, 2016 in Movies

 

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The Martian

On a routine space expedition to Mars, a ground crew are on their final research mission when a fierce storm lashes the planet’s surface. The team of astronauts, severely buffeted by the relentless gales, manage to scramble back to their craft. They watch in horror as one of their crew members, Mark Watney (played by Matt Damon), is blasted hundreds of metres out of sight by the high winds. Assuming he has been killed, Commander Melissa Lewis (by Jessica Chastain) departs the surface of Mars to preserve the lives of her remaining crew. They start their journey home to Earth. Several hours later when the storm has passed, Watney now lies on the calm Mars ground. He regains consciousness and slowly realises he has been left behind on Mars … alone. Now what should he do?  … Left on this inhospitable barren planet, does anyone even know he’s alive?  … How will he survive?  … Will anyone ever come back for him?

This is an entertaining and well-made movie. Once the viewer realises it’s not supposed to be a serious sci-fi, but more a light-hearted drama (almost comedy) made as an adventure story, the whole experience is enjoyable. As Astronaut Mark Watney, Matt Damon is perfectly cast as this highly intelligent, but realistic and practical botanist who’s left to use his every ounce of instinct and ingenuity to figure out a way to survive. He’s got to be smart, as there’s a whole station of highly advanced technical equipment to operate and there’s fundamental mathematics and science to be applied to this survival situation. His co-stars add interest and intrigue to the story – I love that there are some strong, smart women in driving roles – Jessica Chastain is our courageous and innovative Commander Lewis; Kristen Wiig is the digital satellite expert at NASA; and Kate Mara as the crew’s technology whizz. Our resident “Mars” expert at NASA Ground Control is Vincent Kapoor, played very well by Chiwetel Ejiofor, the necessary political animal is NASA Director Teddy Sanders, by Jeff Daniels, who must navigate the stakeholders to get what he needs to keep the space crew alive, the media at bay and the political climate positive. It’s good to see Sean Bean here as NASA’s Mitch Henderson (and not a bad guy for once), he hasn’t been around much lately. Overall, it’s an entertaining adventure story, supported well by a great script and good soundtrack – how timely to note that David Bowie’s “Starman” is used very well in this, along with several other songs from a time gone by. Quite deservedly, the movie won the 2016 AFI Award for “Movie of the Year” and it made no. 5 in the African-American Film Critics Association (AAFCA) 2015 “Top 10 Films”. It also won Golden Globes for Best Motion Picture and Matt Damon for Best Actor. In the 2016 Academy Awards (Oscars) it was nominated for Motion Picture of the Year and in both the Oscars and the BAFTA’s nominations were for Matt Damon (Leading Actor), Writing, Production Design, Sound Mixing, Sound Editing and Visual Effects. It is based on the book “The Martian” by Andy Weir. Very well done.

Made in 2015. Directed by Ridley Scott.

 

 

 
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Posted by on January 18, 2016 in Movies

 

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Gone Girl

Nick Dunne (played by Ben Affleck) can’t believe his luck. He’s got a great job at a magazine, a fantastic life in New York and has just met the most wonderful, beautiful, intelligent and unique woman ever – what’s more, she’s interested in him too. It’s the exquisite Amy (by Rosamund Pike) … even her name is beautiful. They spend several wonderful years together – their New York City lifestyle, their infatuation with each other and their wonderful love makes it all so easy … it’s fabulous. Then Nick’s mother takes ill and they move back to his hometown in Missouri. Amy isn’t so keen, she’s used to a more high-brow lifestyle, but she totally loves Nick, so supports him in this without question. Back in his small home town, she funds Nick and his twin sister, Margo (by Carrie Coon) into a business together – they run “The Bar” – a hip watering hole in town. On their fifth wedding anniversary, Amy suddenly goes missing and all the clues point to Nick … has he killed her? Why would he do that?  Nick swears blind he knows nothing of Amy’s disappearance. Her well known parents, Rand and Marybeth Elliot (by David Clennon and Lisa Banes) arrive in town and the paparazzi are stirred up with the intrigue of Amy’s disappearance. They hound Nick incessantly. The police investigation is headed by Detective Rhonda Boney (by Kim Dickens) … she’s not sure about Nick – did he do it? …. Were they really as happy as he makes out? It seems Nick’s only ally is his sister Go, but even she’s starting to wonder what’s really going on ….

This is a well made thriller. From the outset the scene is set well and the characters are compelling. As Amy, Rosamund Pike is outstanding – her multi-faceted character is revealed piece by piece throughout this work and she is marvellous. Ben Affleck puts in a very strong performance as Nick Dunne and there are wonderful performances from others, particularly Neil Patrick Harris as the weird Desi Collings. Tyler Perry is a useful breath of fresh air as Tanner Bolt, a big city lawyer hired to defend Nick. There are enough layers of intrigue and twists in this to keep a viewer engaged. But somehow it seems to lose momentum towards the end. Perhaps I missed something, but it just tends to peter out somehow.  I may be alone in that opinion however. Rosamund Pike earned an Academy Award (Oscar) nomination for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role, which is very well deserved. Overall it’s a watchable, enjoyable movie, but I wouldn’t rave over it.

Made in 2014.  Directed by David Fincher

 
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Posted by on November 9, 2015 in Movies

 

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The Best Offer (La migliore offerta)

Virgil Oldman (played by Geoffrey Rush) is infatuated with beautiful things. He’s made his living working with beautiful things – antique furniture, sculpture, fine arts and furnishings – in his very successful top quality valuation and auction business. He is drawn to the most exquisite and can’t help himself – his obsessive need to add to his collection overtakes all other thoughts and he “must have” the best pieces. He partners with Billy Whistler (by Donald Sutherland) who poses as a buyer at his auctions, to secure the best prices for the most exquisite and sought-after pieces for himself. This works well and his collection is extensive. One day, Virgil is asked to value the estate of a recently deceased and wealthy town resident, Mr Ibbetson, and he begins an interaction with the administrator of the estate, daughter Claire (by Sylvia Hoeks). As he goes through the valuation process he is drawn to this enigmatic woman and discovers feelings for her he’s never had before. He seeks advice from Robert (by Jim Sturgess) a business contact who has great success with women. Virgil, slowly develops the courage to try to get closer to Claire. Things progress well until Virgil is prepared to give up everything for this great love of his life. But can everything really be as perfect as it seems … ?

This thriller, originally called “La migliore offerta” and distributed as “Deception” in some countries, is marvellous. As the knowledgeable but also acutely naive Virgil, Geoffrey Rush is excellent. Through this drama, Virgil experiences a range of emotions and the audience feels them too, through Rush’s marvellous performance. Other performances are strong too – Sylvia Hoeks is well cast as the fascinating and beautiful Claire, there is no doubt she would capture even the most frozen of hearts. As the wily Billy, Donald Sutherland fits the bill perfectly – his look and the twinkle in his eye is just what’s required for this role – you never really know when he’s being honest with you. Then there’s Robert, the young womaniser and genius mechanic – a perfect business associate and friend for Virgil. There are other marvellous characters who contribute to the rich tapestry of this story also – the house custodian, Fred, by Philip Jackson, is straight out of a Quasimodo story – and the girl in the cafe, by Kiruna Stamell, is very well matched here – the kind of character David Lynch would use too. The whole ensemble is great – it’s a compelling, great movie. It won several international awards of recognition, and there’s no wonder about that. Well done, Guisseppe Tornatore, for both the story itself and the movie.

Made in 2013. Directed by Guisseppe Tornatore.

 
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Posted by on June 13, 2015 in Movies

 

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Son of a Gun

In Perth, Australia, 19 year old JR (played by Brenton Thwaites) has just been convicted and sent behind bars for six months. In prison he tries to stay out of trouble, but trouble seems to find him – until Brendan Lynch (by Ewan McGregor) takes an interest in him and protects him. From the inside, Brendan arranges for JR to meet some of his contacts after his release so JR naively seeks out Sam (by Jacek Koman). Brendan and Sam have a plan and JR’s got a starring role. Sam’s been around and you don’t muck around with him – so JR is not quite sure what he’s getting into. JR stages a prison break to get Brendan out, then as a reward he’s invited to join in on the big heist. He meets Tasha (by Alicia Vikander) and they all travel to an outback Kalgoorlie gold refinery to put the plan into action. But there’s a few hiccups. JR gets caught up in the mess and things get deadly. Can he still trust Brendan? Will he come out of this alive?

This movie is reasonable, but not outstanding. To me, it’s just not convincing – although I’m a great fan of Ewan McGregor’s work, even he can’t save this one. The characters are not explored well and we don’t really learn anything about JR or what motivates him. The other characters are depicted as people you’d rather not get to know, so the whole thing is a little unco-ordinated really. As Tasha, Alicia Vikander is fine, but her character could have been far more interesting.  Even the twist in the plot is a bit pedestrian. It’s good to see a movie shot in Western Australia and that is done well. The action scenes are done well also, but the characters are flat. I wouldn’t really bother with this one.

Made in 2014. Directed by Julius Avery.

 
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Posted by on January 16, 2015 in Movies

 

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Grand Piano

Tom Selznick (played by Elijah Wood) is a virtuoso classical pianist who’s been absent from public performances since he famously choked during a difficult piece in a recital five years ago. His wife, Emma (by Kerry Bishe) is a successful performer herself and after her strong encouragement he has come back to the stage. This is his first performance back and the auditorium is pack with an expectant crowd of supportive fans. Tom’s nervous and worries that he’ll fail again, but knows he can do this. He steps out onto the stage – his conductor, Reisinger (by Don McManus) is ready and waiting. They begin … Tom plays through his sheet music, page after page. But then, something weird starts to happen – he gets a message from someone in the audience, somehow they’re able to communicate instantly with him. He tries to ignore it and carry on with his important comeback performance … then he sees it, a note from his stalker – “Play one note wrong, and you die” …

This is refreshingly different and well done. The suspense builds and the entire piece centres around Selznick’s performance at this recital, without alarming the audience that there’s something wrong. It’s masterfully filmed and the direction is great. As a pianist, Elijah Wood is very convincing, however as a pianist trying to play flawlessly and also communicate with his stalker without making the audience aware, this goes beyond plausible for me. As the stalker, Godureauz, John Cusack does very well. In 2013 it won the International Film Music Critics Award for Best Original Score for an Action/Adventure/Thriller Film. Then in 2014, it won Spain’s Cinema Writers Circle Awards for Best Editing and Best Score and the Feroz Award for Best Original Score. It’s quite a good thriller.

Made in 2013. Directed by Eugenio Mira.

 

 
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Posted by on January 14, 2015 in Movies

 

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