‘Neruda’ Review (The Hollywood News)

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With non-centrist politics and concepts of left and right starting to gain a foothold in the mainstream media after a long period away, it’s timely that Pablo Larraín (director of Jackie) has made Neruda. Based on true events, it gives an account of Chilean Communist politician Pablo Neruda (Luis Gnecco), whose opposition to the American-influenced regime of President Videla led to him going on the run in 1948, with ambitious fascist detective Oscar Peluchonneau (Gael García Bernal) in hot pursuit.

Neruda isn’t just a man of the people but a revered poet, so has a hold on the oppressed populace that the authorities can’t match. Despite not being able to leave the country, he manages to hide in plain sight thanks to his extensive support network – a source of frustration to Peluchonneau, who feels the weight of his illustrious father behind him and is determined to make his mark on history by apprehending the rogue senator. At the core of the drama is the interaction between these two men, who barely meet, yet constantly speculate about one another via narration. It should be said this is one of the few cases I’ve experienced where a film is best enjoyed if you speak the language. The subtitles and similarity in the actors’ voices made it confusing for me to work out who was speaking at times, though this is a minor quibble.

The creation of art plays an increasingly significant role in the action, the chase being depicted as an epic narrative with Neruda wielding the pen. Though Peluchonneau also has his artistic side, grappling with the conventional crime novels Neruda leaves him by way of a tease at each location where he inevitably eludes his pursuer. With his short stature and sniffer dog features, Bernal is a dynamic but doomed figure. He starts off thinking he’s got his prey sussed out – “Communists don’t like to work, they’d rather burn churches,” he remarks at one point. However after a while he gradually begins to understand his role in Neruda’s story, leading towards an unexpected destiny. This idea is given free rein in an abstract last third, which will either be emotionally satisfying or a baffling curveball depending on your view.

Gnecco projects an understated charisma as Neruda, in a portrayal that appears to be very much warts and all. He is a great artist but is also shown as a frequenter of prostitutes and a stubborn friend and husband, giving his protectors the slip to go wandering and turning his anger on those who love him. He is caught in that strange place between man and legend, at one with the people whilst associating with the elite. A particularly interesting scene is when he’s challenged in a restaurant by a member of the public who asks in the event of his taking charge: “Will we be equal to him or equal to me?” These aspects of his character are ably brought to life by the actor. You can’t help but be reminded of Jeremy Corbyn, who’s fond of quoting Shelley to inspire voters and perceived as part of an upper echelon that apparently contradicts his populist stance.

Larraín ensures the world of freedom and imagination is never far away, from his use of deliberately retro back projection during car scenes to the jump cuts which create a jarring yet dreamlike effect during some of the exchanges.

This is a film of delicate twists and turns and it doesn’t arrive at the brutal conclusion you might think it would. At the same time it gives you a fascinating portrait of someone who believed that one day love and hope would ultimately triumph over fear.

 

This review first appeared on THN.

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Logan: Comic Books Characters Transformed By The Movies (BRWC)

Those anticipating Hugh Jackman’s last roll of the dice as Wolverine will have noticed something different about the clawed crusader. Publicity for the film depicts Logan as he’s never been seen on the big screen before. With this fresh visual take on an MCU stalwart about to slash its way into cinemas, now is a good time to look back at other classic comic book characters who got a major makeover, courtesy of those handed the keys to their respective franchises.

Sometimes a visionary director will dictate a new style. Sometimes a new element will be brought in from the printed page, as yet unknown to a casual audience. And every so often sheer lunacy rules the day! Either way, the business of bringing these illustrated icons to life in a movie is one fraught with peril, as the beady eyes of comic book fans prepare to deliver their all-important verdict. Who got it right and who burned in the fires of online forum hell forever…?

Read on…

‘The Night Manager 2’ & Other Unnecessary Sequels (The Hollywood News)

Richard Roper is locked up. His evil arms business has been shut down and the dashing Night Manager of the title survived with his hair in place and good looks intact. The end of the acclaimed BBC miniseries, based on the book by John Le Carré, brought with it an enormous sense of satisfaction. The story began. It held us enthralled for a few weeks. Then sadly it finished.

Or did it? Director Susanne Bier recently announced that development has begun on a follow-up script. It seems the broadcaster is thinking in terms of a franchise, and I for one am anxious. The original tale was so well told, what good could come from elaborating on it? In this era of binge-watching, it isn’t always the best idea to give viewers a tele-visual trough to gorge from. Surely sometimes one rattling good yarn is enough.

As the BBC head down what may be a disastrous path, let’s take a look at some other great shows that would have been better left as a one-time-only-type deal…

MURDER ONE

The first season of small screen pioneer Steven Bochco’s legal drama stood out from the pack, due to an innovative format which saw the entire run taken up with a juicy murder case. Boasting a charismatic, chrome-domed lead in Daniel Benzali, supported by the likes of Stanley Tucci, Patricia Clarkson and Mary McCormack, the show was a forerunner of today’s tendency to devour a series in one sitting.

Unfortunately low audiences led to some fatal retooling for the second season, starting with the replacement of Benzali and a range of stories that failed to capture the imagination. Anthony LaPaglia tried his best to fill the shiny shoes of his predecessor but it seemed the creative team itself was on trial this time round. The verdict: cancellation.

TRUE DETECTIVE

In an age where TV dramas with big screen production values are commonplace, True Detective managed to plough a mighty furrow. The screen-burning combo of Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson formed the epicenter of an intense and frightening journey into the dark heart of Louisiana, and the mind of a killer. Writer Nic Pizzolatto and director Cary Fukunaga worked exclusively on the whole season, giving it a consistent quality throughout.

However the decision to try and continue the series as an anthology turned out to be a misstep, despite the presences of Rachel McAdams and Colin Farrell. Whilst the new narrative of inner city corruption in California was fertile ground for a crime saga, this second run never attracted the critical acclaim of the first, thanks to a tangled plot and a perceived lack of inspiration on Pizzolatto’s part.

BROADCHURCH

This British drama became a sensation during its first outing, the show’s Scandi Noir-inspired sensibility and slow-burning style reviving the corpse of the murder mystery genre. The revelation of who killed young Danny Latimer was carried on the front of every major newspaper the next day, audiences sharing the horror of stars David Tennant and The Night Manager‘s Olivia Colman. The title town would never be the same again, though the story appeared to come to an end once the crime had been solved. Creator Chris Chibnall had other ideas, announcing his intention to make the series the first in a trilogy.

Upon revisiting the seaside locale, it quickly became clear this strange direction was going to lead to a dead end. The Latimer thread received an unnatural extension, with the killer getting off thanks to the vagaries of the legal system. Meanwhile Chibnall inserted a backstory for Tennant’s abrasive detective in a less than compelling fashion. Series Three has been well-received, but Broadchurch must sadly live with the memory of a misfiring second instalment.

BLOODLINE

What looked on the surface to be yet another overheated family saga turned out to be anything but, as Bloodline took well-worn subject matter and made it soar in every department. The return of black sheep Ben Mendlesohn to the Rayburn fold and his subsequent web of lies and deceit spun toward a devastating Season 1 finale, the events of which were boldly revealed in advance at the end of the very first episode.

The mounting tension, as the Rayburns gradually pieced together what their brother had been up to with the clan’s hotel business, was nail-biting stuff, well-written and acted – set against the backdrop of the sweaty Florida Keys. With this tour-de-force of storytelling concluded, creators Todd A. Kessler, Glenn Kessler and Daniel Zelman opted to try and maintain the momentum, only this time minus Mendlesohn’s masterclass in conflicted villainy. After rave reviews for the first chapter, the reception for Season 2 was decidedly mixed. Why did they even bother?

THE NIGHT MANAGER

One of the most talked-about dramas of recent years, featuring a line up of British talent so hot you could toast a crumpet with it, The Night Manager took John Le Carré’s source novel (adapted by David Farr) and gave it a Bond-esque coat of gloss. In fact so convincing was Tom Hiddleston’s hero, the miniseries sparked strong rumours he was in line to inherit the mantle of 007 from Daniel Craig. This knuckle-gnawing suspense thriller about a hotel employee trying to bring down an international arms dealer (Hugh Laurie’s Richard Roper) had people tuning in by the millions.

Now the makers are attempting an audacious and arguably downright stupid manoeuvre: they are going to try and top one of Le Carré’s best-regarded works with their own sequel. Will Roper emerge from his exile (presuming he lived) to exact vengeance on Hiddleston’s frustratingly telegenic saboteur? Or is the title hunk of the hospitality industry about to further consolidate his status as a Bond in waiting with a whole new adventure, perhaps working undercover at a B & B?

How exactly it will pan out remains to be seen, but the BBC really are dancing on ice in steel-tipped clogs on this one. I enjoyed spending time with The Night Manager, but to be frank I’d rather check out while the going’s good.

 

This feature originally appeared on THN.

“An instant classic.” Arrival DVD Review (The Hollywood News)

Those who have given up on ever seeing an original film again may take comfort from the presence of director Denis Villeneuve, who has carved himself a niche somewhere between well-trodden territory and new ground. His next release is Blade Runner 2049, which sees him in the tricky position of following Ridley Scott‘s futuristic masterpiece. What presumably got him there was Arrival, an assured and powerful sci-fi epic that amazingly is Villeneuve’s first attempt at the genre.

Amy Adams plays grieving and disconnected linguist Louise Banks. Now if you think linguistics isn’t going to make the most compelling subject for a story think again. Her recruitment into a multi-government effort to communicate with the occupants of several large, monolithic objects which have appeared over skies across the globe forms the basis of an instant classic. As she and physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) gradually begin to piece together the purpose of the octopus-like “Heptapods” visit, they feel the weight of world expectation behind them. Meanwhile US Army bigwig Weber (Forest Whitaker) is being leaned on by his superiors to obtain fast results.

This push and pull illustrates one of the film’s big questions – are the superpowers capable of understanding the mysteries of the universe when they can’t trust each other for five minutes? Crucial to the struggle at the heart of Eric Heisserer‘s screenplay (based on a short story by Ted Chiang) is Adams’ lead performance, another effortless example of her star quality. She was the filmmaker’s only choice for the role and you can see why. Renner, Whitaker and the under-used Michael Stuhlbarg are decent, but merely incidental in a narrative that Adams dominates from start to finish. Finally we have a major genre movie that does everything AND has a female perspective.

For an alien encounter story, the feel is surprisingly intimate. Much of the action takes place either within the network of tents where the military have set up shop, or the interior of the spacecraft, a design triumph that acknowledges the likes of HR Giger but which also has a stunning simplicity. This is a sparse and elegant production of looming shapes rather than slithering monsters. It’s intelligent and complex but also accessible and moving. The increasing public disquiet is only shown via screens, ramped up by a deluge of media speculation, reinforcing the idea of a bubble.

Aside from an actress in charge of proceedings, there’s nothing that new on display: like Interstellar, Arrival pays tribute to 2001, both in terms of the central character’s personal odyssey and the striking black shapes heralding the appearance of an alien civilization. However, while Christopher Nolan‘s film boggled your eyes and shattered your eardrums with its central concept, Villeneuve delivers something more nuanced and distinctive. His take brings us familar subject matter in a way that hasn’t quite been seen before, derivative yet challenging. The reveal of the Heptapods’ ship fuses extraterrestrial engineering with nature in an astonishing helicopter shot which marks him out as a visual stylist to match Blade Runner‘s Ridley Scott. On the audio side, composer Johann Jóhannsson‘s score is a stirring mix of deep, Inception-style tones and intricate, exotic composition.

Unusually for a DVD, the extras are quite meaty, befitting the weighty ideas behind the tale. The main featurette – Xenolinguistics: Understanding Arrival – is an absorbing overview. At one point Villeneuve tells the interviewer he felt he couldn’t make a sci-fi movie in Canada… the home of David Cronenberg! How times have changed. But then Arrival rewrites the laws of time altogether. Like the best entries of its type it is a strong comment on humanity and how being confronted with something truly other uncovers the best and worst in us all.

 

This review appeared on THN.

“Look man I jumped into it. It may f*cking suck.” Clayne Crawford Talks ‘Lethal Weapon’ (THN 2016)

lwClayne Crawford is going global as well as postal, taking over the role of Martin Riggs from Mel Gibson for Fox’s Lethal Weapon. In this interview I found his views on the small screen take to be refreshingly honest…!

Clayne Crawford: I was spending time with my family on my farm in Alabama when they called. I laughed in their face at the idea of even turning Lethal Weapon into a TV show, I said ‘You need to leave the fucking franchise alone, it’s great and Mel Gibson did such a wonderful job, I want no part of it.’ And that went on for about three weeks before I finally read the script…

In my heart I’m still just a kid, who wants to play cowboys. I love playing dress up, I’m a kid at heart and I love using that platform as a therapy for myself. So when I read a character who was broken and had lost everything and he channelled that through stopping bad guys.. y’know for lack of a better word he saves the day and he’s just this damaged guy, and he’s funny… I thought ‘You know what? Fuck it, if you guys really want me to do this let’s just go and do the best we can and if we fail miserably that’s okay, we’ll go do something else.’

Look man, I jumped into it. It may fucking suck. But I enjoyed the material, and I tried to bring honesty to everything that I did and I tried to forget the original film. I tried to bring Martin Riggs into the twenty-first century and here I am. We’ll see what happens man.

Me: I think a lot of people are looking forward to it.

CC: I think you’re wrong, I don’t think anybody’s fucking looking forward to it. (Laughs) Which is kind of a good thing because they’re going to think it’s such shit, that they’ve set the bar so low we can only succeed, right?

lw-2The most important question is will you be keeping the hair?

(Laughs) I’m going to be a little different than Mel. Part of me agreeing to this was… we all had to shed our preconceived ideas of this relationship between these two men and who Mel Gibson was playing Riggs in 1987. It’s 2016 and he’s quite a different guy. There’s a little bit of a different backstory… look man, I hope Mel’s not pissed off. That’s my hope, that if he watches this thing, if anyone watches this fucking thing, they’ll be entertained, and go on a fun ride for an hour.

 

This interview first appeared on THN.

‘Jason Bourne’ DVD Review (The Hollywood News)

jb-1The last entry in the Bourne franchise was 2012’s The Bourne Legacy starring Jeremy Renner. While that became a one-off, it’s worth examining the character’s true legacy before diving in with this review. The original trilogy helped cement Matt Damon‘s position in Hollywood. Paul Greengrass‘s involvement from part two onwards gave the series an additional layer of quality. More than anything, the films had an impact on movie action in general. When Daniel Craig took the role of 007, it was no coincidence his adventures were “back to basics” in nature, a single shot saying more than a million bullets out of a machine gun ever could.

Identity through to Supremacy appeared to offer a complete journey for Jason Bourne. Despite this, Damon and Greengrass have got the band back together for their riskiest mission yet: an extra helping that tries not to tarnish what has gone before. Have they succeeded? Well, on the whole yes, though there are a few bumps on the road as they go.

Greengrass and co-writer Christopher Rouse have developed their hero’s personal odyssey further by revealing hitherto-unknown information about Bourne’s involvement in Operation Blackbriar (the covert assassination league he blew wide open during his last outing). When former ally-turned-Snowden-esque-hacker Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) contacts a broken-down Bourne about this explosive development, the scene is set for him to return from his exile as a bare knuckle boxer and set the world to rights one more time. It’s a logical but well-worn approach, though in fairness the strength of the franchise was the way it put a new spin on hackneyed spy thriller clichés rather than innovate itself.

Drawn back into the fray like a chiselled moth to a flame, Damon’s Bourne runs up against an impressive trio of villains. Tommy Lee Jones‘s weathered CIA chief Robert Dewey wants the rogue operative permanently erased. Alicia Vikander‘s ambitious and fetching Heather Lee represents the changing face of intelligence, believing Bourne can be brought back into the fold. Meanwhile Vincent Cassel’s “The Asset” becomes the latest relentless Euro-henchman to be put on Damon’s tail, a man of steel with old scores to settle.

Inevitably it’s more of the same controlled chaos, with Greengrass’s handheld camera roving amongst the fist fights and destruction at breakneck speed. The unflinching pace doesn’t make up for repetition and an overall lack of meat. However some intriguing snippets of Bourne’s character are in evidence – most notably the way he distances himself from Nicky’s counter culture activities. He may be fighting the system, but at heart he’s an establishment man, a strand which gives credence to Vikander’s belief he secretly wants to return to duty.

She is the film’s strongest element, Lee possessing equal capacity to wear either the white hat or the black. Damon can do this sort of thing in his sleep and the same can be said of Jones, who is a welcome presence. Cassel’s ageing hard man is also highly watchable. Like a lot of these big action projects, it could have done with being a bit shorter and not all the fresh ingredients work. Riz Ahmed‘s social media mogul doesn’t add much to the narrative, aside from making the basic point that Dewey’s world is changing.

Ironically the climactic chase has all the extravagance of Pierce Brosnan’s Bond, a sign that maybe the series is running low on inspiration. The team have had a good run, and made a sizeable mark on the genre – as Moby’s excellent Extreme Ways kicks in over the end credits, it might be time to admit those ways are now the old ways.

 

This review first appeared on THN.

Sometimes They Come Back: ‘Jason Bourne’ Feature (The Hollywood News)

md-jb-2For a while it looked like Matt Damon had left the action-packed life of rogue operative par excellence Jason Bourne far behind. Jeremy Renner starred in 2012’s The Bourne Legacy and was set to continue in the visceral vein of his predecessor. However, fans got a surprise when Damon announced his return to Robert Ludlum‘s butt-kicking chronicle, bringing regular collaborator Paul Greengrass along for the ride.

The star’s reappearance in one of his defining roles is a bit out of left field, but certainly not unprecedented when it comes to celluloid heroes and heroines resurrecting themselves for that extra sack of box office loot. So as Damon comes back to Bourne, let’s check out some other notable names who decided the show wasn’t quite over yet…

SEAN CONNERY: JAMES BOND

jb-nsna

The rugged Scotsman made his name wearing the tuxedo of Ian Fleming‘s infamous superspy. Yet his attempts to leave the legacy behind were twice thwarted. First he was persuaded to get the Walther PPK out for Diamonds Are Forever in 1971, after replacement George Lazenby‘s stint turned into a one-off.

Twelve years later he got another call, this time to pit an ageing Bond directly against the Roger Moore era for Never Say Never Again. The reworking of Thunderball ultimately lacked the class of the established franchise. On the other hand it was fun to see Connery back in the saddle, strongly supported by Kim Basinger and Rowan Atkinson.

KATE BECKINSALE: SELENE

kb-uThe actress with enough charm to get the pants off King Kong made two Underworld flicks before seemingly moving on to pastures new and unbloodied. 2009 prequel Underworld: Rise Of The Lycans starred Rhona Mitra as a younger version of rubber-clad vampire and werewolf-buster Selene. Here we saw how the ludicrous battle between the fanged and the furry got started in the first place.

Beckinsale must have figured there was life in the old dog despatcher yet, returning to the fold for Awakening in 2012. The film had Selene defending herself in a dangerous future where vamps and wolves were acknowledged by the general populace. Forthcoming chapter Blood Wars will continue the saga with the star very much at the forefront.

VIN DIESEL: XANDER CAGE

vd-xxxDiesel has made a better fist of reviving his well-known characters than most. Luckily he’s been the mainstay of three eye-catching series; playing Riddick from Pitch Black onwards, Dominic Toretto in the turbo-charged monster of the Fast & Furious movies; and now he’s pumping iron for xXx: The Return Of Xander Cage, set for release next year.

The belated threequel will come fifteen years after the original installment, which posited the brooding actor as an extreme sports junkie turned 007-esque adventurer. He declined the next mission for part two, with the lead role taken by the unlikely shape of Ice Cube. The new chapter finds Cage engaged in that staple of the genre, the testosterone-laden conspiracy thriller.

MATT DAMON: JASON BOURNE

jb-1It’s a tough gig finding out you were a trained assassin in a former life. Jason Bourne should know – he’s been living the nightmare for the past fourteen years. The Bourne Ultimatum appeared to give him his long sought-after identity back. Though when you’re as up to your neck in calamity as this guy, you know it’s only a matter of time before yet more trouble ensues.

Helmer/co-writer Paul Greengrass has reportedly succeeded again in handing Bourne his action credentials in another exploration into what makes the chiseled chaser tick. Tommy Lee Jones, Alicia Vikander and Vincent Cassel make up the opposition trying to take the hero down a peg, whilst Julia Stiles resumes her role as Nicky, on hand to get Damon out of the mother of all jams, spooned into the jar in just the right amount by one of Hollywood’s hottest teams.

 

This feature first appeared on THN.