Archives for posts with tag: jim broadbent

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The collocation of the words “London” and “spy” suggests a stylish thriller with a lot of umbrellas and conversations in St James’s Park. At the very least, some gritty leather jackets and terrorist-thwarting à la “Spooks.” Not, say, a self-pitying club kid and an irritating naïveté.

But that’s what we get. Danny (Ben Whishaw) stumbles out of a club at dawn looking like nine kinds of hell and encounters Alex (Edward Holcroft), who is a posh banker out for a run. Alex is closeted and slightly strange, but nonetheless Danny falls heavily for him, and they are together for some months. Then Alex disappears just when they’re supposed to be going away for the weekend, and when Danny manages to get into his flat, he discovers a secret bondage attic and Alex’s body in a trunk. To put it mildly, this does not jibe with Danny’s impression of Alex’s preferences, and he is therefore convinced that Alex has been murdered, and the sadomasochistic fripperies are part of an elaborate frame-up.

Danny enlists Scottie (Jim Broadbent), an older friend of his, to help him prove that his lover didn’t die in a sex game gone wrong. Things escalate quickly. Danny’s vague impression that Alex is “good with numbers” turns out to be accurate, insofar as Alex works for MI:6, and has been working on a world-changing algorithm of a truly absurd kind. The security services continue to concoct and backstop truly staggering conspiracies. Danny becomes increasingly insufferable, even to people who are trying to help him.

Atmospherically, it works. By which I mean that the blue filter suffusing everything more or less creates a plausible English misery. But the plot has holes like a Connect Four set, and only Jim Broadbent and sometimes Harriet Walter manage to invest their characters with any depth. Charlotte Rampling is mired in clichés of posh repression; both Holcroft and Adrian Lester are clumsy caricatures of men too brilliant to possess emotions. You never believe in Danny and Alex.

I would have forgiven it many of these things if it had managed to be tonally consistent. But its pretentious claims to authenticity take a nosedive into cheese fondue in the final episode, and it’s awful.

Stray observations:

  • A climactic plot moment depends on the supposedly secret algorithm being already implemented by the very security services that seek to destroy it. Okay.
  • Danny wears terrible jeans. I’m not sure anyone wears jeans like those, and I’m certain that adherents of warehouse parties don’t.
  • Scottie does have a very nice umbrella.

Director: Jakob Verbruggen
Rating: a robust TV-MA, I should say
Length: approximately 300 minutes
Score: 2/5

The current trend of biography is lengthy and complicated (see “The Crown,” or “Victoria”), which is possibly admirable. If, however, you are looking for the film biography equivalent of a chocolate soufflé, look no further than The Young Victoria.

As the title suggests, this film deals only with the early, Cinderella-type years of Victoria’s life, when she falls in love and is kind of bad at being the queen, and before she gets jowly and depressing. Helpfully, Victoria’s life was peopled with engagingly cartoonish heroes and villains, and they find excellent avatars here. Victoria (Emily Blunt) is so young, and slightly too pretty, and she is liable to listen to Lord Melbourne (Paul Bettany) because he is handsome and she is frighteningly sheltered. Her mother (Miranda Richardson) and Sir John Conroy (Mark Strong) would like to control her, and have made a decent go of it for the first 17 years of her life. Sir John is so evil, and so delightful. He wears amazing trousers.

mv5bmtm4mjexmdk3nv5bml5banbnxkftztcwmtu3otmwmw-_v1_ux182_cr00182268_al_Enter Albert (Rupert Friend), who is also unbelievably young, and unbelievably Romantically German. His hair! His shirtsleeves! His awkward love of Schubert! His hilariously tolerant brother Ernest (Michiel Huisman)! Apparently Ernest was awful in real life, but here he just rolls his eyes when Albert is adorably dumb about Sir Walter Scott.

To be sure, the most interesting thing about Victoria was not her romantic life, but it makes a good feature film. She and Albert are so young, and so silly, and so in love, and so well dressed. They care just enough about the poor and about progress that you aren’t grossed out by their fake problems. You’re sad when they fight and pleased when they make up, and why can’t some dreamy moron come visit me with a pair of giant dogs?

Director: Jean-Marc Vallée
Rating: PG
Length: 105 minutes
Score: 5/5

I guess it speaks to my astounding unawareness of other people’s opinions about films that I went to Brooklyn last night and was confused by how many people were there. I haven’t watched an awards show since Titanic cleaned up at the Oscars, for reference.

Anyhow, Brooklyn. Immigrant tales used to come in two kinds, the kind where home changes and the kind where home doesn’t. Vis-à-vis the United States, the former used to have a charming romance between two different types of people, melting pot blah blah, America rah rah. That’s gone out of fashion, to be replaced by the type of story exemplified by Jhumpa Lahiri’s Namesake, where everything is complicated and maybe home is nowhere.

Things are complicated in Brooklyn, too, but less aporetic. Eilis (Saoirse Ronan) has two lives, one in Enniscorthy, County Wexford, and the other in Brooklyn, New York. These come with the usual trappings: Jim Farrell (Domhnall Gleeson) and Tony Fiorello (Emory Cohen), respectively, as well as the conflicting pulls of family, job, interfering busy-bodies, and so forth. Both worlds (as well as the ships that cross the Atlantic) are beautifully drawn, from costumes to local dances to employers to beaches… It’s lovely, and Ms. Ronan looks varyingly lovely in it–her hair and costume people are tremendous, as her growing confidence, knowhow, and maturity are borne out in her fashion choices and ability to do her hair properly. There’s no makeover moment, and the progression is not linear, but her understated, splendid acting comes through perfectly. She is equally at home in times of crisis (deaths, catastrophic homesickness) and in small moments (talking too much on a date, and, my favorite moment, sitting next to a boy on the trolley and smiling while avoiding eye contact).

Aside from the obvious complicated gentlemen and a priest here and there, most of the characters in Eilis’s life are women, from her mother and sister to the owner of the boarding house in Brooklyn, a Mrs. Keogh (Julie Walters, who is great as always), and the other boarders there. They are excellently drawn; none is a caricature, and they all have reasonable, clear motivations. This movie is actually interested in how its characters think, women and men, and benefits from the attention.

My one quibble is that it’s a little predictable, and, in the end, a little pat. And I know there’s nothing new under the sun, but it started out so ambitiously I was a little surprised.

Stray observations:

  • Shoes in the 50s were awful, apparently, and this film is unflinching about it.
  • If you don’t want someone to propose to you, for whatever reason, and that person is averagely percipient and non-awful, it’s not that hard to keep him from doing so.
  • Domhnall Gleeson is rapidly becoming one of my favorites, because he is extremely versatile–aside from the shock of ginger hair, he is nearly unrecognizable from here to Star Wars.

Directors: John Crowley
Rating: PG-13
Length: 111 minutes
Score: 4/5

Le Week-End put me very much in mind of Richard Linklater’s Before Insert-Time-of-Day films, except it was worse. But otherwise it’s like the next installment, when Jesse and Celine are old and actively hate each other. A couple go to Paris, talk a lot to no real purpose, the woman is even more irritatingly irrational than the man, and then there’s some resolution but not really. So I’m afraid Linklater is the yardstick I use, and it’s not a flattering one.

Here, we have Nick (Jim Broadbent) and Meg (Lindsay Duncan) Burroughs, a recently-sacked professor and a still-employed-but-dissatisfied teacher. They go to Paris for their anniversary. Nick is clingy, about which Meg is hateful, but when he goes outside unexpectedly she goes insane, because…I dunno, because these movies always have crazy women in them. Then they run into an old schoolmate of Nick’s: Jeff Goldblum as Morgan, in the usual aging Lothario part Goldblum now gets. He invites them to a party, which of course results in further rudeness and insanity.

This sort of movie is supposed to appeal to us because it’s so “real.” Older “real” people worry about money (although they tend not to dine and dash with quite the breezy regularity of these Burroughses), they often have drifted apart and disagree about their children, and they regret that they never gave it all up to live in a draughty garret in Montmartre to write and paint and die of tuberculosis. These are “real” things about which people have “real” conversations in which they are deeply, cruelly unpleasant to each other. Often in public. Even, God save the mark, when they are English. Only bourgeois stooges, you see, repress their feelings and come to terms with the world as it is.

And, as this sort of movie, Le Week-End is fairly good. It has humorous moments, it is well-acted, and Paris is lovely. Le Week-End is worse than Before Elevenses, though, because those movies, though talky and slow, showed interactions that actual people might have. Celine and Jesse were nuts, but their conversations progressed in some human language, with traceable logic. Nick and Meg jag from accusations of infidelity to giggling over a large restaurant bill with jarring suddenness. And Meg is confused and insulted when Nick worries that she no longer loves him–though she has called him a pathetic idiot (not in loving banter) and said she wants to leave. So there’s that.

If you want to see two well-known actors exercise their craft in a script that is beneath them, and to be made fun of for your sad middle-class blindness, feel free to watch this movie. Otherwise, find another talky film in which Paris looks lovely; there are plenty.

Stray notes:

  • I hated both main characters. And I know that people are lousy and unkind, but it helps, when making a film, to create a modicum of sympathy for at least one of the people who is on the screen for 93 minutes.
  • Morgan has an unhappy teenage stoner son (of course) who is simultaneously attracted and repulsed by Nick’s despairing frankness. He rings almost true.

Director: Roger Michell
Rating: R
Length: 93 min.
Score: 3/5.

This movie was, as far as I know, universally reviled and then forgotten, and I’m not sure why. People loved the book, I think, and considered the adaptation unworthy. Which… the book was not all that, and the movie was not so bad.

If you are unfamiliar with Cloud Atlas the book, it is a somewhat overdone pastiche of genres that purports to show that everything is connected. Meanwhile visionaries are punished and we are fast heading to our own destruction. It is vaguely fugal, and its main components are: the journal of an American notary in the antipodes in the 1840s, the letters of a young English composer in Belgium in the 1930s, a narrative in the present tense (tooth gnashing heard) about a journalist in not-quite-San-Francisco in the 1970s, the memoirs of an English publisher approximately now, the confession (?) of a Korean service-industry clone in the post-environmental-catastrophe future, and the fireside tale of a Hawai’ian bloke in the post-nuclear-apocalypse future. That’s a lot, and you might say it would be difficult to make into a film. I think that’s true, but I think the film did about as well as could be expected.

The movie doesn’t adhere to the fugal sequence of the book, it merely bounces around among the narratives, and I think that’s a good choice. Moreover, it reuses the actors across storylines, which serves to bring them together, and also to avoid an insane proliferation of paychecks. This does end with Ben Whishaw in unsettlingly good drag and Jim Sturgess and James D’Arcy in somewhat uncomfortable vaguely Asian make-up, but as a storytelling decision it’s effective.

Unfortunately, the film is unable to make you care about all the stories. Jim Broadbent as the English publisher trying to escape from an old folks home is amusing, but forgettable. Tom Hanks as an illiterate futuristic goatherd eventually flirting with Halle Berry is both boring and embarrassing. Mr. D’Arcy, underneath all that make-up, is almost convincingly distraught by the tale of revolution told by Doona Bae’s clone. Ms. Berry is charming and more or less engaging in her 70s haircut and journalistic integrity. But by far the best narrative is that of Mr. Whishaw’s young composer writing to his lover, a touchingly naïve and unusually blond Mr. D’Arcy. Theirs is the only outcome I cared about–I knew what it was, having read the book, but I still cared.

So the movie is no more pretentious than the book, if certainly no less. It’s visually arresting and most of the time periods are convincingly fleshed out technologically or sartorially. No one completely phones it in, and the writing echoes the novel while eschewing some of its most mannered excesses. It is, of course, somewhat fragmented, but that is deliberate and forgivable.

Stray notes:

  • I literally have no idea why Susan Sarandon was in this movie.
  • Or Hugh Grant.

Director: Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski
Rating: R
Length: 172 minutes
Score: 3/5.