Tag Archives: Ben Kingsley

Loving the Alien


by Hope Madden

Milton (Ben Kingsley) walks to every town council meeting to recommend, when the time comes for citizen suggestions, that the town change its motto from “a good place to call home” to “a good place to refer to as home” in case it confuses people looking for somewhere to phone home.

He’d also like to see a crosswalk on Trent Avenue between Frost and Allegheny.

Oh, and an alien spaceship crash landed in his backyard and took out most of his azaleas, so if anyone knows what to do about that…

Director Marc Turtletaub, working from a script by Gavin Steckler, reimagines E.T. with his charming suburban sci-fi, Jules. Rather than a group of kids determined to hide their alien friend from grownups, its Milton, Sandy (Harriet Sansom Harris) and Joyce (Jane Curtin) ­– three elderly singles – doing the same. 

Because the truth is, it would be hard for kids to pull something like this off nowadays. In the Eighties, sure ­ – nobody was watching us then. But today? No, the innocents who go unnoticed these days are in their eighties.

The cleverness of the concept is bittersweet, as are the performances. Curtin’s a hoot and Kingsley’s characteristically spot-on, but it’s Harris’s open, joyful performance that holds the story together.

The veteran actors immediately gel as three lonesome individuals who come together over the shared fascination and protectiveness brought out by their new friend, Jules. Or Gary. Joyce thinks he looks more like a Gary.

A line running through the film parallels the wild circumstances with aging, and in particular, with dementia. Naturally, Milton’s behavior is not taken seriously and rather considered proof that he may need to be looked after. The fact that there is some truth to that worry haunts the film and adds texture to the otherwise lighthearted antics.

Turtletaub can’t quite pull those threads together, though. While Jules is a lovely film, its big-hearted take on mental health and science fiction made me just want to watch Colin West’s somewhat similar but vastly superior Linoleum again.

Still, Jules is a dear, gentle film that gets in some decent laughs.

Hello, Dali


by George Wolf

Sir Ben Kingsley as Salvador Dali? That is perfect casting, and an offer that would be hard to resist even if the rest of Daliland was an uninspired bore.

It’s not, although it could use a bit more of the legendary surrealist’s zest for the unconventional.

Director Mary Harron and writer John Walsh (married since 1998) anchor the film in 1974, when Dali’s outlandish antics, eclectic entourage and wild parties (“I need four dwarves and a suit of armor”) have caused the art critics to lose interest in him.

But such a lifestyle costs money.

As Dali’s longtime wife and muse Gala (Barbara Sukowa) presses his gallery for cash, the curator’s young assistant James Linton (Christopher Briney from TV’s The Summer I Turned Pretty) is tasked with “spying” on the master. Dali’s big show opens in 3 days, and the gallery wants to make sure they will have plenty of new works to unveil.

Using a young neophyte as an audience’s window into an icon’s world is a fairly standard narrative device, but Harron and Walsh make sure this world is a fascinating one. Kingsley is as delightful as you expect, Sukowa digs deep into the persona of an aging beauty clinging desperately to power and sex appeal, and Briney makes for the perfect wide-eyed fan on a spiral toward disillusion.

Some of Dali’s more famous friends (Alice Cooper, Jeff Fenholdt, Amada Lear) are represented, creating a Warhol-esque community of celebrities and hangers-on that seems disinterested in the demands of tomorrow.

But while Harron does well showcasing the excess and activity, Dali’s actual artwork is MIA, leaving a few well-placed flashbacks to provide anything close to surreal. As we see the younger Dali (Ezra Miller) pursuing the then-married Gala (Avital Love) and receiving inspiration for what will be his signature style, Kinglsey’s Dali watches with us, inviting us into the conversation. These are not only compelling moments, they are the times when the film seems most in step with the legend that drives it.

It may be young James that carries the film’s biggest arc, but it is the orbit around planet Dali that changes him. Harron and Walsh seem too content to merely document that world on the way to a larger comment on disposable fame, crass classism, and the simple fear of death.

As the title would suggest, don’t come to Daliland for a psychological profile of a legend. Come for a peek inside his carefully curated shelter from the real world, and for the e-ticket ride performance from Kingsley.

Diamond Life

Locked Down

by George Wolf

If you’re gonna be quarantined, you could do worse than being stuck with Anne Hathaway or Chiwetel Ejiofor. They’re both extremely talented and – inexplicable internet hate notwithstanding – easy to like.

But in Locked Down, their characters don’t like each other much anymore. In fact, Linda and Paxton were just about to split up when the stay-at-home orders came down. So now he’s been furloughed, she’s been firing people via Skype, and they keep to opposite ends of their (pretty sweet) London townhouse.

But fate is a funny thing, and though Paxton thinks it’s long been against him, suddenly he and Linda have the opportunity to steal a priceless diamond from Herrod’s without anyone noticing.

In writer Steven Knight’s resume of big ups (Locke) and major downs (Serenity – I mean wtf?) Locked Down is a creamy middle with a pleasant enough aftertaste.

Though the dialogue is filled with too-perfect banter and characters who casually drop references to Norse mythology while getting tripped up over “implode” and “explode”, everyone involved seems like their having fun. Expect a couple laugh out loud moments as well, so there’s that.

Hathaway and Ejiofor exude effortless charisma, and a parade of cameos (Ben Stiller, Ben Kingsley, Mindy Kaling, Stephen Merchant, Claes Bang) adds to the comfort food feeling.

And since this is a true socially distant production, most of those famous faces are seen only on computer screens, with director Doug Liman making sure there are plenty of Zoom glitches and other overdone reminders of our interesting times.

But though Liman is best known for action flicks (Edge of Tomorrow, Mr. and Mrs. Smith) this is no Ocean’s Two. The heist is small scale and forgettable fun, but it’s when we’re gently reminded about the things the pandemic hasn’t changed – only revealed – that Locked Down finds a relevant voice.

Locked Down is available now on HBOMax

Death and the Malkin

Operation Finale

by George Wolf

“Whom did you lose?”

“We lost six mill-”

“I’m asking about YOU!”

Operation Finale may be an often gripping take on the hunt and capture of elusive Nazi war criminal Adolph Eichmann, but it finds emotional power in the intimate characterizations of two truly gifted actors.

Sir Ben Kingsley is Eichmann, the SS “Head of Jewish Affairs” who lived under a false identity in Argentina until an Israeli Mossad unit tracked him down. Oscar Isaac is Peter Malkin, the Mossad agent who entered into a psychological duel with Eichmann while negotiating his extradition for trial in Israel.

Director Chris Weitz handles well the shifting timelines and changing locales, propping the historical dramatics up with tense staging reminiscent of Argo. And, as he’s not had any recent head injuries, Weitz knows when to stay out of the way and let his two leads do the masterful things they do.

The trouble spots in Operation Finale come mainly from Matthew Orton’s script, which is ironic because many isolated moments are quite effective.

Much of the dialogue is breezy and even funny, which humanizes the supporting characters (with fine work from an ensemble including Melanie Laurent, Haley Lu Richardson and Nick Kroll) but can feel a bit flippant inside such weighty history.

And in weighing that history, Orton’s first feature screenplay aims for meaningful statements on the casualness of evil and the moral ambiguities of war, but settles instead for well meaning generalities that don’t amount to any unique vision.

Kingsley and Isaac (who also earns a producer credit) provide their own. Their scenes together become a richly-drawn cat and mouse game, a face off between personifications of genocide and exterminator. Somehow, they make subject matter this unpleasant a joy to watch unfold, elevating Operation Finale with a moving contrast of soul.




Young Turks

The Ottoman Lieutenant

by Hope Madden

With an almost offensively naïve – or more likely, revisionist – sense of history surrounding an entirely anachronistic amount of gumption, The Ottoman Lieutenant is the third historical romance to hit theaters in as many weeks.

And the weakest.

The lovely A United Kingdom struggled to find an authentic voice for the true story of Seretse and Ruth Khama’s love. Bitter Harvest, on the other hand, lacked the focus to use its love story to articulate the horrors of war.

Both films made a valiant effort to shine a light on a historical period. The Ottoman Lieutenant separates itself from the pack primarily with its open attempt to rewrite history, to make it more noble, palatable and romantic.

Lillie Rowe (Hera Hilmar) is a young woman of privilege. She’s also an American with a thick Icelandic accent, but no matter. Lillie spurns her stuffy 1914 Philadelphian upbringing in in favor of mission work in Anatolia, thanks to a cardboard-stiff speech given by mission doctor Jude Gresham (Josh Hartnett).

Once there, as Dr. Gresham falls in love with Lillie, she’s busy falling for Lieutenant Ismael Veli (Michiel Huisman) who, luckily, speaks English – as do all Turks in the film, even when they’re talking amongst themselves. How convenient!

Armenians – a population all but wiped from existence one year later – figure minutely in this soft focus clash between Muslims and Christians. But why tell their story just because your film is set in their backyard on the eve of their genocide? The important thing to understand is that, in war, everyone is wrong and only love is right.

That’s the gallingly simple outlook of the nurse with the tousled hair whose cloying voiceover tells us everything and nothing, simultaneously.

Though Joseph Ruben’s direction can never transcend Jeff Stockwell’s historically vacuous screenplay, the film often looks quite lovely. As does Hilmar, which is great as she is never called upon to act. She poses really well, though, and never laughs no matter how precious the dialog. Plus, Lillie has so many great hats!

It’s almost a shame Ben Kingsley shows up when he does because, even saddled as he is with this one-dimensional stereotype of a character, Ben Kingsley can act. His talent only exposes the balance of the cast for the posers (and poseurs) they are.

The Ottoman Lieutenant offers a lot of easily won wisdom and quick solutions – and hats. None of these strike me as items abounding during a time of war, but stark reality is not the goal of the film.

What the point is, I couldn’t tell you.


Animal Planet

The Jungle Book

by George Wolf

Much like the “man-cub” Mowgli prancing gracefully on a thin tree branch, director Jon Favreau’s new live action version of Disney’s The Jungle Book finds an artful balance between modern wizardry and beloved tradition.

The film looks utterly amazing, and feels nearly as special.

Impossibly realistic animals and deeply nuanced landscaping completely immerse you in the jungle environment where the young Mowgli (a wonderfully natural Neel Sethi), after being rescued as an infant by pragmatic panther Bagheera (voiced by Ben Kingsley), lives happily among the wolf pack of Akela (Giancarlo Esposito) and Raksha (Lupita Nyong’o).

But after threats on the man-cub’s life by the fearsome tiger Shere Khan (Idris Elba), Bagheera decides it is time to lead the boy back to the “man village” for good.

Based on the stories of Rudyard Kipling, Disney’s 1967 animated feature showcased impeccable voice casting and memorable songs to carve its way into the hearts of countless children (myself included). Clearly, Favreau is also one of the faithful, as he gives the reboot a loving treatment with sincere, effective tweaks more in line with Kipling’s vision, and just the right amount of homage to the original film.

And this group of voices ain’t too shabby, either.

Kingsley is perfectly elegant, Elba commanding and scary, while Scarlett Johansson gives Kaa the snake a hypnotic makeover oozing with seduction. Then, in the heart of the batting order, along comes Bill Murray to fill Baloo the bear full of sarcastic gold and Christopher Walken to re-imagine King Louie as an immense orangutanian Godfather.

All the elements blend seamlessly, never giving the impression that the CGI is just for flash or the cast merely here for star power. The characters are rich, the story engrossing and the suspense heartfelt. Credit Favreau for having impressive fun with all these fancy toys, while not forgetting where the magic of this tale truly lives.



What’s In the Box?

The Boxtrolls

by Christie Robb

If you’re looking for a quick Halloween costume for your kid and don’t have any skills, fling ‘em in the car and go see the Boxtrolls immediately. Even if you’ve achieved the Martha Stewart merit badge for craftiness, buckle them in the booster seat. This movie is adorable.

The town of Cheesebridge comes to life after curfew. The Boxtrolls, a group of cavorting wee beasties who wear boxes like turtle shells, roam the streets in search of mechanical doodads to drag back to their underground lair. These guys upsycle trash into musical instruments and fantastical inventions.

But they have a bad rep—accused of binging on babies, they are rounded up by a red-hatted crew whose leader, Archibald Snatcher (voiced by Ben Kingsley), hopes to be promoted to a white hat once he captures the last of the trolls.

The trolls are harboring a small boy they’ve dressed in an egg carton (Isaac Hempstead Wright). Raised to think he’s a troll, Eggs realizes he’s a boy when confronted by the daughter of the city’s big cheese and head white hat Lord Portley-Rind (Jared Harris). Together Eggs and Winnifred (Elle Fanning) quest to discover Eggs’s true identity and prove to the townsfolk who the real bad guys are.

The stop-motion animation from the creators of Coraline and ParaNorman is glorious and filled with bug-eating gross out humor and pratfalls that will delight the younger members of the audience. But there are enough cheese-based puns and ruminations on the nature of good and evil to please the adults.

Certain scenes might be a bit too scary for the very small.