Tag Archives: Ben Whishaw

Shaken and Stirred

No Time to Die

by Hope Madden and George Wolf

Daniel Craig’s had a good run. As Bond, he delivered a much needed transformation for the Brit spy series, shouldered the best film in the entire franchise (2012’s Skyfall), and allowed considerable nuance to seep in to the characterization.

Bravo.

He needed a bold and fitting final film to cap his time with MI6, and 2015’s disappointing return to the old guard Spectre wasn’t it. A global plague pushed his finale back nearly two years. Luckily, No Time to Die was worth the wait.

Craig’s retired agent is lured back to the game (of course he is) by a global threat (of course it is) involving an old nemesis (natch), a new rival (sure) and the beauty who broke his heart.

Yes, but wait, because co-writer/director Cary Joji Fukunaga (Beasts of No Nation) takes these familiar elements in new directions, thanks mostly to Craig’s wearily vulnerable performance.

Bond is a tough gig for an actor because there has generally been so little actual acting required – or allowed. And while Craig shows us a wizened soul with humor, longing and vulnerability to spare, Fukunaga surrounds that performance with a story worthy of his send off.

Since the Craig era began, his Bond has always seemed more determined to exist in a more relatable world with more universal stakes. Here, Craig’s final outing speaks often of love, legacy, sacrifice, and precious time, against the threat of human contact itself becoming fatal. And while there are still plenty of moments to suspend disbelief, this film again benefits from the move away from the parody-ready version of 007 that reigned for decades (cheekily emphasized here by Bond’s brief adventure with Ana de Armas’s rookie agent, Paloma).

Mysterious new villain Safin (Rami Malek) shares a tragic past with Bond’s love Madeleine (Léa Seydoux), while the legendary Blofeld (Christoph Waltz) is still able to pull deadly strings from inside maximum security.

Bond’s old friend Luther (Jeffrey Wright) and an over-eager newbie (Billy Magnussen) recruit Bond for the CIA, seemingly pitting him against M”s (Ralph Fiennes) MI6 team and its new 007 agent, Nomi (Captain Marvel‘s Lashana Lynch). Can Q (Ben Whishaw) and Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) sit this one out and remain neutral?

Not bloody likely.

Opening with a tense and expansive 26-minute prologue, Fukunaga unveils thrilling set-pieces and gorgeous visuals that beg for a big-screen experience. Aided mightily by a soaring, throwback score from Hans Zimmer, Fukunaga infuses NTTD with a respectful sense of history while it marches unafraid into the future.

The one-liners, callbacks and gags (like Q’s multi-piece tea set) are well-placed and restrained, never undercutting the nearly three-hour mission Fukunaga clearly approached with reverence.

Where does James Bond go from here? Hard to say, but this 007 doesn’t care. Five films in 15 years have changed the character and the franchise for the better, and No Time to Die closes this chapter with requisite spectacle and fitting emotion.

The Downward Spiral

Surge

by George Wolf

Joseph swallows too loudly. His mother tells him so, which is just part of an uncomfortable family dinner where even eye contact is a chore.

Surge follows Joseph’s downward spiral during the hours after that awkward meal, when table manners become the least of his concerns.

Joseph (a mesmerizing Ben Whishaw) works security at London’s Stansted airport, where his days pass by with monotonous routine and lifeless social interaction. But unsettling encounters with two separate air travelers seem to puncture Joseph’s bubble of detachment, setting the stage for a 24-hour journey of primal indulgence.

In his feature debut, director/co-writer Aneil Karia leans heavily enough on handheld shaky cams and closeup framing to earn a warning for anyone triggered by such frenzied motion. Though this approach does work fine as a mirror to Joseph’s frayed psyche, and Paul Davies’s sound design is impeccably detailed, it’s really Whishaw’s Sundance award-winning performance that constantly keeps you invested.

The minimalistic script provides little insight into Joseph’s breakdown beyond the standard pressures of modern life and alienation. This keeps us at a distance as well, making it hard to relate to Joseph as much more than the latest guy who ate detergent.

Surge does have craftsmanship and style, leaving little doubt that Karia is a talented filmmaker with more deeply felt features in his future. But right now, he’s got a terrific actor to showcase, and that turns out to be just enough to get him by.

What’s In a Name?

The Personal History of David Copperfield

by Hope Madden

Will he turn out to be the hero in his own life?

The Personal History of David Copperfield reunites the writing/directing team of Simon Blackwell and Armando Iannucci, whose Death of Stalin, In the Loop and the series Veep represent high water marks in political satire.

How are they with whimsy?

Not too bad. While the material is a far different style of cynical minefield for the filmmakers, Dickens offers a couple of opportunities Iannucci and Blackwell can appreciate: a big cast and wordplay.

Dev Patel is a perfectly amiable, easy to root for David Trottwood Daisy Dodi Murdstone Davidson Copperfield. (Ranveer Jaiswal is the even easier to root for, ludicrously adorable youngster version.) As we see their tale spun and re-spun, it is, of course, the characters that come and go that make the biggest impression.

Who? Tilda Swinton (with the year’s best onscreen entrance), Hugh Laurie, Ben Whishaw, Gwendoline Christie, Benedict Wong and Peter Capaldi, among many others. The multiracial cast emphasizes the fanciful fiction, the desire of a writer to create a story better than their own reality. Here, each actor takes character to caricature, but the brashness suits Iannucci’s busy, bursting, briskly paced narrative.

Iannucci hopscotches about the story and timeline in an episodic manner that fits the source material. What results is a charmingly animated rumination on those characters in life who shape our stories, experiences and maybe our character.

We can all get behind an underdog story, although like most of Dickens’s work, David Copperfield isn’t one. It’s the would-be tragedy of a person of good breeding who falls into a life that’s beneath him only to have his proper station returned to him via a happy ending.

Not to poo-poo Dickens, but it’s in the cheery resolution that the material seems a misfit for the raging if delightful cynicism of the filmmakers. When Uriah Heap accuses, “You and yours have always hated me and mine,” the boisterous nature of Iannucci’s film feels ill at ease because of the line’s pointed honesty. Let’s just right these cosmic wrongs and give the money back to the people who had it in the first place, shall we?

Still, this David Copperfield has its own lunatic charm to burn. Gone are the laugh out loud moments as well as the bitter aftertaste of Iannucci’s best work, but in their place is a lovely time.

Those Meddling Kids

 

Teenage

by George Wolf

“Those who get the youth, get the future.”

It takes a few minutes to get a handle on Teenage, but don’t let go. His methods may be a bit  outside the norm for documentaries, but director/co-writer Matt Wolf (no relation) ultimately creates a captivating look at the evolution of the teenage experience.

Mixing classic newsreel footage with fictional recreations and celebrity narrators (Jena Malone,Ben Whishaw) Wolf overcomes moments of pretension to deliver a vibrant collage of history lesson, art film, and political statement.

The film reminds us that, hard as it may be for Beliebers to belieb, “teenager” wasn’t always a thing. Starting with the period before child labor laws and working forward, Wolf illustrates how societies in both Europe and America slowly began to recognize adolescence as a separate, and viable, stage of life.

Phrases such as “our music made the feet of the world dance” may be a bit dramatic, but then, so are teens. The dramatic details the film provides, from the birth of the Boy Scouts to Vietnam, do much to overcome the heavy handed moments.

Wolf seems to realize he’s bitten into a big subject, one he can’t begin to encompass at the pace he settles into. While some historical periods do get short shrift, Teenage becomes an effective highlight reel, one that sparks your curiosity for more.

 

Verdict-3-5-Stars