Tag Archives: Chiwetel Ejiofor

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

Killer Queen

Maleficent: Mistress of Evil

by Hope Madden

I’m not going to lie to you, I hated Maleficent. Not because it was a mediocre CGI mess, although it certainly was that. I hated that film because Disney turned one of its absolutely most magnificent villains—one of cinema’s most magnificent villains—into a heartbroken, misunderstood victim.

Screw that.

But five years after Maleficent’s (Angelina Jolie) maternal love saves Aurora (Elle Fanning) and several kingdoms in the process, humans are back to whispering evil stories about the guardian of the Moors. Meanwhile, Aurora and Prince Philip (Harris Dickinson) have decided to marry.

That first family dinner doesn’t go super well.

Stuffed to the antlers with sidetracks and subplots, characters and ideas, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil shows you everything and articulates nothing.

Flashes of social commentary stand out. In the name of greed, evil leadership whips up fear amongst the population to justify racism, jingoism, colonialism and even genocide.

Despite Maleficent’s fangs, the fact that the film clearly leans toward giving the colonizers one more chance as opposed to siding with indigenous rebellion renders the film biteless.

But who could resist Chiwetel Ejiofor? He calls for peace and languishes in some kind of Disney side character purgatory as wizened and wearied Conall, one of the winged Fey who look to Maleficent to lead their kind.

Dear Hollywood: please give Chiwetel Ejiofor better parts in better movies.

Ejiofor is hardly the only talent wasted in this slog. Littered amid the carnage of so, so many side plots are Imelda Staunton, Lesley Manville and Juno Temple, again bothersome at best as three pixies. Sam Riley and Ed Skrein are allowed to smirk and grunt, respectively. Only Jenn Murray stands out, weirdly sadistic playing the queen’s very small enforcer.

Even Fanning once again comes up lame, asked only to beam and blush, though Dickinson has it worse. Be quietly noble, his direction seems to insist. Noble, but never rude.

The film should be Jolie’s show, but she does little more than pose. Robbed of her imposing wickedness by the end of the first movie, she now just seems bored and is more often than not upstaged by Michelle Pfeiffer’s Queen Ingrith.

Ingrith is written with no more depth than any of the other few dozen speaking characters to grace the screen in this overpopulated mess, but it’s always fun to see Pfeiffer chew scenery up and spit it out.

Director Joachim Ronning shows moments of visual inspiration, splashing color across the screen one moment, forbiddingly grim grey tones the next, but the little magical creatures rarely suggest the CGI budget was spent very wisely.

What was the point again?

Oh, right. Maleficent made $758 million.

Secrets and Eyes

Secret in Their Eyes

by George Wolf

American remakes of great foreign films aren’t always a letdown (The Ring actually improved upon Ringu), but the track record is not good.

Secret in Their Eyes does little to reverse the trend.

If you haven’t seen Argentina’s El Secreto de sus ojos, the 2010 Oscar-winner for Best Foreign Film, then writer/director Billy Ray’s adaptation can stand alone as a serviceable thriller with a stellar cast.

Chiwetel Ejiofor is Ray Karsten, an investigator who remains haunted by an unsolved murder from 13 years earlier, and by some lingering feelings for his former co-worker Claire (Nicole Kidman).

Just four months after 9/11, a young woman’s body was found in a dumpster, right beside a mosque suspected of harboring terrorist activity. To Karsten’s horror, the victim was the daughter of his colleague Jess (Julia Roberts), and the killer was never brought to justice.

Now, after years of pouring through mugshots each night, Karsten returns to Jess, and to Claire, with hopes of re-opening the case.

One of the many beautiful qualities of the original film was how it juggled the years and storylines intermittently but equally, poignantly layering the gritty crime drama with the wistful pangs of unrequited love. There’s more than one secret at work here, but Ray’s vision can’t view them as equals.

His cast is certainly game, especially Roberts, who digs in to Jess’s heartbreak with ferocity. She and Ejiofor make ID’ing Jess’s daughter utterly devastating and the film’s emotional high point, which shouldn’t come so early.

Ray, who’s more seasoned as a writer (Captain Phillips, The Hunger Games) than director (Shattered Glass), pushes too hard in almost all directions, from xenophobic paranoia to the obstacles coming between Karsten and Claire. His pacing feels rushed, and his attempt to re-create the original film’s eye-popping sports stadium chase fizzles out quickly.

Many of the changes Ray makes to the core story are curious but acceptable, as you wait to see how he approaches that knockout finale. Once it hits, the feeling is more like a gut punch.

Emotional resonance is replaced with lets-go-one-better excess, as if American audiences couldn’t accept any finale without a clearly drawn morality, for fear a dark beauty might follow them home.

What Ray omits from the conclusion is nearly as criminal as what he adds, and his film ultimately wears an unwelcome irony. These characters remind us more than once that “passion always wins,” and it’s passion that needs to drive them.

But just when Secret in Their Eyes needs it most, when both storylines are converging in a deserving payoff, it cops out, and a glorious passion play becomes a common exercise in obligation.

Verdict-2-5-Stars

 

 





Three’s a Crowd

Z for Zachariah

by Hope Madden

If you are unfamiliar with Craig Zobel, google him immediately. Hopefully you’ll discover Homestar Runner, which will clue you into Zobel’s particular mad genius. Go ahead and spend some time. Take in the glory that is Teen Girl Squad. Then prepare yourself for an amazingly different experience and watch the filmmaker’s third feature, Z for Zachariah.

Based loosely on Robert O’Brien’s award winning adolescent novel, the film is a meticulous examination of human behavior masquerading as a SciFi flick. Sometime after an undisclosed apocalypse (radioactivity suggests a nuclear war), Ann Burden (Margot Robbie) tends her farm alone, her valley somehow spared of the radiation. She believes she may be the last living soul until scientist John Loomis (Chiwetel Ejiofor) appears in the distance in his radiation suit.

What evolves is a fascinating character study blessed with two excellent performances.

Ejiofor is incapable of a weak turn, and as is always the case, he manages to wear the character’s entire backstory in his countenance, posture, wordless reactions, and eyes. He’s almost capable of presenting a fully realized character without a word of dialog, and his Loomis is a mysterious, weary guest whose undisclosed, recent experiences have made him a little distant, even as Ann has to contain her joy at finding a companion.

Robbie has never been better in a role that is sometimes almost aggravatingly naïve, and yet this is a character with the grit to survive on her own, to plow a field – to create the film’s Eden.

Nissar Modi’s screenplay sometimes treads too heavily with the biblical metaphors, but Zobel never does. While the film explores ideas of science versus religion, male versus female, intellect versus emotion, white versus black, Zobel’s real interest – as he showed with brilliantly frustrating results in his previous effort, Compliance – is to examine human foibles, resilience, and self-destructive tendencies.

Z examines the nervous but sweet blossoming of a relationship, then upends the comforting narrative with the arrival of a third survivor – handsome Caleb (Chris Pine).

Pine’s third wheel is a less developed character, but the actor manages to convey the right amount of manipulative aw-shucks and just the hint of menace the film needs to generate tension.

The film’s minimalism is both welcome and problematic, as it seems to work against much of the built-in tensions and drama that could enliven the running time.

Fans of the novel will be irritated by the many liberties taken, but Zobel’s film stands firmly on its own. Told with realism and simplicity, and boasting an intriguing amount of ambiguity – especially at the climax – Z abandons the traditions of the post-apocalyptic film in favor of something modest and moving.

Verdict-4-0-Stars





Countdown: Who Wins the Oscars?

 

 

Sunday night, we invite you to join us at the Drexel Theatre, as we are once again pleased to host their annual Red Carpet Oscar Bash! You’ll have a chance to win great prizes if you can correctly pick the most winners, and on that note…here’s how we think the night will go:

Best Film

Will Win: 12 Years a Slave

American Hustle and Gravity are strong contenders, but we think voters will do the right thing and award this magnificent piece of filmmaking with its just due.

Should Win: 12 Years a Slave

Though the year offered a boon of wonderful, imaginative, powerful films, nothing quite compares to the meticulously created, absolutely visceral period piece.

 

Best Actor

Will Win: Matthew McConaughey in Dallas Buyers Club

McConaughey will be rewarded for turning a career’s worth of lazy rom-com roles into two of the most impressive years in any working actor’s career.

Should Win: Chiwetel Ejiofor in 12 Years a Slave

Unfortunately, McConaughey’s achievement will be at the cost of a phenomenal talent’s most blistering and brilliant performance, and hands down the best lead turn from an actor this year.

 

Best Actress

Will Win: Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine

From her opening moments as Jasmine, the wildly talented and uniquely versatile Blanchett owned the film and the audience.

Should Win: Cate Blanchett

Amy Adams is going to have to take home an Oscar one of these days, and her turn in American Hustle certainly deserves consideration, but Blanchett took a gift of a part and created an unforgettable character.

 

Best Supporting Actor

Will Win: Jared Leto in Dallas Buyers Club

Leto brings tenderness and tragedy to the belt-buckle-and-cowboy-hat tale Dallas Buyers Club with a beautifully dimensional performance, and his win is the second surest bet this awards season.

Should Win: Michael Fassbender in 12 Years a Slave

Fassbender will be ignored again by the Academy (who failed to even notice his devastating turn in 2011’s Shame), and that’s a shame in itself because his performance in 12 Years a Slave was more explosive, fearless and honest than anything he’s done, which is saying a lot.

 

Best Supporting Actress

Hope Says

Will Win: Lupita Nyong’o in 12 Years a Slave

She won the SAG, Golden Globe, and even the coveted Central Ohio Film Critics Association award for her work. Oscar will follow.

Should Win: Lupita Nyong’o

At first glance, Nyongo’s performance as field slave Patsy seemed a tad heavy handed, but as the character’s hellish existence is slowly revealed, we realize that this performer has found a way to make the unimaginable a reality.

George Says

Will Win: Jennifer Lawrence in American Hustle

Though it wouldn’t surprise me at all if Nyong’o does win, I just have a hunch that Lawrence (who also won a Golden Globe as American Hustle was in the comedy category) will prevail.

Should Win: Jennifer Lawrence

It really is a toss up, but I give JLaw the edge for stealing the movie right out from under the the best ensemble cast of the year. “Science oven” for the win!

 

Best Director

Will Win: Alfonso Cuaron for Gravity

This is a tough call. Basically, we think the best directing and best film nods will be split between Gravity and 12 Years a Slave. Last year, Ang Lee took the honor mostly for the technical/craftsman merits of his Life of Pi. We think Cuaron will receive the same treatment for the unarguably superior Gravity.

Should Win: Steve McQueen for 12 Years a Slave

It’s McQueen’s first dance with Oscar, and though his efforts in drawing performances, staging an epic, and keeping dusty old history as visceral and present as any other film this year are magnificent, we think the voters might side with Cuaron’s technical mastery.

 

Best Original Screenplay

Will Win: American Hustle

It’s a dazzling work of writing, heartfelt and character driven, funny and touching, full of excitement and spot-on with period. Plus, David O. Russell’s never cashed in on his 5 nominations, so it’s probably time.

Should Win: Her

Spike Jonze’s uncommon voice and vision turned out the year’s loveliest and most original love story, and the sheer uniqueness of the project deserves the Oscar.

 

Best Adapted Screenplay

Will Win: 12 Years a Slave

It’s simply the strongest contender.

Should Win: 12 Years a Slave

The ability to take a text more than a century and a half old, and from it create multi-dimensional characters and achingly relevant conflict, is a talent that needs to be recognized.

 

Enjoy the Oscars!





Transcendent Filmmaking

12 Years a Slave

by Hope Madden

Remarkable, isn’t it, that it took a foreign-born filmmaker, with the help of a mostly foreign-born cast, to properly tell the shamefully American tale 12 Years a Slave.

Steve McQueen is the British director who artfully and impeccably translates Solomon Northup’s memoir of illegal captivity to the screen. Northup, played with breathtaking beauty by Chiwetel Ejiofor, was a free family man in New York State, a violinist by trade, duped, drugged, shackled and sold into slavery in Louisiana. We are privy to the next 12 years of this man’s life, and while it is often brutally difficult to watch, it’s also a tale so magnificently told it must not be missed.

Chiwetel Ejiofor is an intense talent, though you have likely never heard of him and have possibly never seen him. But if you happened to have come across Britain’s 2002 thriller Dirty Pretty Things and spied his tender, heart-wrenching turn as Okwe, a Nigerian immigrant fallen into sketchy company in London,  you knew he was destined for great things.

He’s found that destiny in 12 Years a Slave.

The clear Oscar frontrunner, Ejiofor is not alone as a favorite this award season. McQueen populates his understated, graceful picture with one of the most perfectly chosen casts in memory. Even the smallest role leaves a scalding impression. Whether it’s Paul Giamatti’s casual evil, Benedict Cumberbatch’s cowardly mercy, Paul Dano’s spineless rage or Adepero Oduye’s unbridled grief, there’s an emotional authenticity to the film that makes every character, no matter how brief their appearance in Northup’s odyssey, memorable – sometimes painfully so.

But there are three performances you will likely never forget. Principally, there is Ejiofor, a performer who expresses more conflict, anguish and thought with his eyes than most actors can hope to share in an entire performance. His work roils with emotions few would care to consider, and never does he bend to melodrama or overstatement.

In her film debut, Lupita Nyong’o’s almost otherworldly performance marks a profound talent.

Meanwhile, as the sadistic Master Epps, Michael Fassbender’s performance guarantees to be the most brilliantly unsettling piece of acting found onscreen this year. There is no stronger contender in this year’s Oscar race for best supporting actor, and likely none will show himself. He’s terrifying, and his performance feeds off the talent around him. The raw energy among the three – Fassbender, Ejiofor and Nyong’o – is sometimes too much to bear, and the three share a few scenes that are nearly too powerful to take in.

McQueen does not let the cast run away with his picture, though, and he mines a deep human beauty from Northup’s journey. He never forgets that while justice requires that Northup be delivered from slavery, it remains blind to all those people left on Epps’s plantation, many of whom faced a far more dire existence than Northup.

No romanticizing, no comic relief, just the abject truth of what will happen to a man, a woman, a young boy, and a little girl who is owned outright by the kind of human who believes owning another human is justified. It’s almost beyond comprehension, due not only to the fact it happened for 250 years in our own history, but  because across the globe, it still happens every day in the world’s booming sex trade industry.

12 Years a Slave transcends filmmaking, ultimately become an event, one that is destined to leave a profound, lasting impression.

Verdict-5-0-Stars