Tag Archives: Ewan McGregor

Of a Feather

Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)

by Hope Madden and George Wolf

First on the Harley Quinn playlist: Breaking Up Is Hard to Do

Harley (Margot Robbie, positively electric) tells us she and the Joker are done, and she didn’t take it well. What’s worse, Harley’s new relationship status means anyone in Gotham who’d like her dead (and there’s plenty) doesn’t have to worry about payback from “Mr. J.”

Shuffle: It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s Man’s World

At the top, there’s Roman Sionis aka Black Mask (Ewan McGregor, hamming it up to glorious effect) who likes the faces peeled off of his enemies. He wants a priceless diamond that’s been lifted by teenage pickpocket Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco), and Harley, forced to bargain for her life, promises to get it.

But Gotham has no shortage of talented women fed up with being kept down, and Harley tends to attract them. The vocally gifted Black Canary (June Smollett-Bell), the deadly mysterious Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, scene-stealingly deadpan) and the conveniently suspended Detective Montoya (Rosie Perez, nice to see you) all find themselves on the wrong end of a sizable bounty, and things get messy.

Shuffle: Sisters Are Doin’ It For Themselves

The badass girl power isn’t limited to the cast. Director Cathy Yan (Dead Pigs) serves up an irresistible cocktail of Scott Pilgrim visual flair and Tarantino continuity clash. Yan seems to relish the freedom of an R-rating (see “face-peeling” above), crafting memorable set pieces bursting with slick fight choreography, cartoonishly satisfying violence and wonderfully stylish pandemonium.

Shuffle: Respect

As Hope’s dad told the many Madden girls growing up: eyes, nose, throat, groin, knees are all equally vulnerable no matter the size of the attacker. Yan appears to be the sister we didn’t know about, but she certainly knows how to hurt a guy.

Writer Christina Hodson has become the go-to for ridiculous franchises that need more than we dare hope (she’s the one who wrote the only Transformers movie that didn’t suck). She teams well with Yan and her badasses, offering backstories and traumas that toe the line between superhero/supervillain legend and shit women deal with every day.

If you saw the stale trailer, noted the deadly release date, remembered the limp Suicide Squad and feared the worse, we hear ya. And maybe Birds of Prey benefits slightly from low expectations. But there’s no denying the raucous, foul mouthed, glitter-bomb fun.

Shuffle: Free Bird (live version).

What’s Up, Doc?

Doctor Sleep

by Hope Madden and George Wolf

The Shining was always going to be a hard act to follow, even for Stephen King.

But as soon as King revisited the horror with Doctor Sleep, the bigger challenge instantly fell to whomever was tasked with bringing it to the screen.

That would be writer/director Mike Flanagan, who’s trying on two pairs of pretty big shoes. His vision will not only be judged next to one of the most iconic horror films of all time, but also by the source author who famously doesn’t like that film.

While Doctor Sleep does often feel as if Flanagan is trying to serve two (or more) masters, it ultimately finds enough common ground to become an effective, if only mildly frightening return trip.

After surviving the attempted redrum, adult Dan Torrence (Ewan McGregor) is struggling to stay clean and sober. He’s quietly earning his chips, and is even enjoying a long distance “shine” relationship with the teenaged Abra (Kyliegh Curran).

But Abra and her unusually advanced gifts have also attracted the attention of Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson, sweetly menacing) and her cult of undead travelers. Similarly gifted, Rose and her band seek out young shiners, feeding on their powers to remain immortal.

Flanagan breaks the spooky spell to dive into terror in a truly unnerving sequence between Ferguson’s gang and a shiny little baseball player (Jacob Tremblay). Effectively gritty and hard to shake, it is the one moment the film fully embraces its horror lineage.

Reportedly, Flanagan had to convince King that it is Kubrick’s version of The Shining that reigns in popular culture (as it should), and that their new film should reflect that. Smart move, as is the choice to hit you early with lookalike actors in those famous roles from 1980.

Is it jarring seeing new faces as young Danny, Wendy, Dick Halloran and more? Yes it is, but as the film unfolds you see Flanagan had little choice but to go that route, and better to get comfy with it by the time Dan is back among the ghosts of the Overlook hotel.

King has made it clear he needed more emotional connection to his characters than Kubrick’s film provided. McGregor helps bridge that gap, finding a childlike quality beneath the ugly, protective layers that have kept Danny Torrence from dealing with a horrific past.

Flanagan (Oculus, Hush, Before I Wake, Gerald’s Game) stumbles most when he relies on awkward (and in some cases, needless) exposition to clarify and articulate answers. Kubrick was stingy in that regard, which was one of The Shining‘s great strengths. Questions are scary, answers seldom are.

Whatever the film’s setbacks and faults, it is good fun getting back to the Overlook and catching the many Shining callbacks (including a cameo from Danny Lloyd, the original Danny Torrence). Flanagan’s vision does suffer by comparison, but how could it not? Give him credit for ignoring that fact and diving in, leaving no question that he’s as eager to see what’s around each corner as we are.

Doctor Sleep can’t match the claustrophobic nature or the vision of cold, creeping dread Kubrick developed. This film often tries too hard to please—not a phrase you’d associate with the 1980 film. The result is a movie that never seems to truly find its own voice.

It’s no masterpiece, but check in and you’ll find a satisfying, generally spooky time.

Sweeter Than Hunny

Christopher Robin

by George Wolf

Pooh! Who doesn’t love him?

Winnie T. Pooh and the gang from the Hundred Acre Wood have endured for decades, and now the second Pooh film is less than twelve months brings all the furry friends to live-action life.

Last year’s Goodbye, Christopher Robin was a bittersweet and uneven origin story, focusing on the inspirations for A.A. Milne’s Pooh tales.

Christopher Robin drops both the goodbye and the bitter in becoming a grown-up fantasyland with an easily digestible, greeting card-ready sentimentality.

Mr. Robin (Ewan McGregor, charming as always) has put the Hundred Acre Wood long behind him, with a wife (Hayley Atwell), a young daughter (Bronte Carmichael – great name!) and a working-class job as an efficiency expert at a London luggage company.

He’s lost sight of the joy in life, and when a crisis at work means Christopher will miss another weekend family getaway, fate intervenes with a much-needed Pooh crew reunion.

The CGI effects that bring the animals to life are wonderful, the voice work  (including Brad Garrett, Toby Jones, Sophie Okonedo, Dr. Who‘s Peter Capaldi and voice acting veteran Jim Cummings) is spot on, the humor warm and the message fuzzy.

What’s missing is depth. There’s no real attempt to find any, and that’s a bit surprising with the filmmaking talent involved.

The director is Marc Forster, and the writing team includes Tom McCarthy and Alex Ross Perry. Between them, those three have some serious depth on their resumes, including Spotlight, Up, Listen Up Phillip, Queen of Earth, Monster’s Ball, Stranger Than Fiction, The Kite Runner and more.

The result is similar to David Lowery’s live-action take on Pete’s Dragon two years ago, where a filmmaker skilled at nuance within serious themes took on a children’s classic and struggled with when to stop simplifying.

Christopher Robin is sweeter than the “hunny” jars Pooh dives into, but nearly as empty as he leaves them. In trying to showcase the need for simple wonders, the film settles awkwardly between a child’s fable and wistful remembrances from grandparents.

There’s plenty to like, but little to love.

 





Choose Nostalgia

T2 Trainspotting

by Christie Robb

Choose life. Choose a movie. Choose a sequel, a prequel, a reboot, a franchise. Choose a revival. Choose familiarity. Choose nostalgia.

Watching the sequel to Trainspotting was like watching the new Gilmore Girls—only with more violence and heroin.

Is it social media that makes us feel we need to keep endlessly up to date on everyone? Is living in a chaotic world leading to an increased desire for tidy endings? Is it just the same kind of curiosity that makes folks RSVP to class reunions? Who needs reasons when you’ve got Trainspotting?

T2 takes place 20 years after Mark Renton steals £16,000 of communal drug sale profits from his friends and splits, vowing to live the life of a grown up. He experiences a minor coronary episode on a treadmill, which serves as the catalyst for a midlife crisis. And this crisis doesn’t take him on the path to buy a convertible, or to a hair plug consultation, or make him vow to consume a daily probiotic. Because the plot demands it, Mark is drawn back home to Edinburgh-to a bunch of people who feel that, to some degree or another, he ruined their lives.

In the original movie, Simon “Sickboy” Williamson states his theory of life, “Well, at one point you’ve got it. Then you lose it.” T2 isn’t bad. But it’s not great either. It’s lost some of the magic that the first movie had. But then it’s probably supposed to have.

It’s a movie about middle age, about looking back at who you were in your twenties and assessing what you’ve done or haven’t. Set against the backdrop of a gentrifying Edinburgh, we are presented with a familiar plot. Scenes from the first movie are rehashed. Renton delivers a new “Choose Life” monologue to a bored 20-year-old, which largely pans internet culture, shrilly condemning the choices of a stereotypical member of the younger generation in the same way he condemned the spirit-crushing lifestyle of clichéd older folks 20 years before.

Sometimes key scenes from the old movie are even played as flashbacks or projected on top of an existing new scene. The music too, is recycled. As if the characters stopped listening to anything new at 25.

Sure, it’s delightful to see all the cast members together again (Ewan McGregor, Robert Carlyle, Ewen Bremner and Johnny Lee Miller) under the helm of original Trainspotting director Danny Boyle (who went on to win the Oscar for Slumdog Millionaire). But the enjoyment is not unlike seeing a fading star in concert, or asking for a tour of your childhood home, or meeting up with an old flame for a drink.

It’s nice for a bit, but maybe not quite as good as in the old days.

Verdict-2-5-Stars

 

 





Ask the Dishes

Beauty and the Beast

by George Wolf

Word is, the early plan for Disney’s live-action remake of their 1991 classic Beauty and the Beast did not involve a musical production.

Um, that’s crazy.

That soundtrack from Alan Menken and Howard Ashman is in the team picture of Disney’s all-time best, and director Bill Condon politely reminded studio bosses that without it…what’s the point? Sanity prevailed, and Condon brings the familiar tale to life again with a lush, layered, often gorgeous vision, celebrating the brilliant songs that helped make the original the first animated film to garner a Best Picture Oscar nomination.

Condon’s directing his first musical since the excellent Dreamgirls, and he hasn’t lost the instinct for staging a show-stopper or two. His camera pans and zooms during “Gaston,” revealing a village full of buoyant choreography, while the title song gets an intimate, classic treatment that builds upon a possible decades long investment in these characters.

“Be Our Guest,” the early request from various castle housewares to the captive Belle (Emma Watson), emerges as a joyous Catch-22. We can’t wait for Lumiere (Ewan McGregor) and the gang to start singing…but it is a hard act to follow.

Watson delivers a spunky Belle who’s more industrious than the animated version, yet at times bland next to the gregarious Gaston (a scene-stealing Luke Evans) and the often distracting face of the Beast (Dan Stevens). Even as wondrous visuals fill frame after frame (see the 3-D IMAX version if you can), CGI facial features can’t quite keep up, and choosing this tract over makeup artistry feels like an ambitious misstep.

The supporting cast, including Emma Thompson, Ian McKellan, Kevin Kline, Audra McDonald and Josh Gad, is delightful at every turn, and shows more welcome diversity from Disney. The brouhaha over the sexuality of LeFou (Gad) proves as inane as expected, though it does add some sly gravity to Gaston’s campaign against the Beast. As he rallies the villagers by exclaiming there is “a threat to our very existence!” Gaston leans in to LeFou and asks, “Do you want to be next?” Well played.

Add to this a diverse array of townspeople, two high-profile mixed-race couples, and LeFou’s partners during the dance finale, and Disney’s path to progress grows more concrete.

Devotees of the original Beauty and the Beast will have their nostalgia rewarded, but Condon’s vision has the flair and substance to earn its own keep. Though not quite as magical, there is something here that wasn’t there before.

Call it maturity, call it pizzazz….or just ask the dishes.

Verdict-3-5-Stars

 

 

 





Something’s Up with Jack

By Hope Madden

Have you ever wanted to see a nose so big you might be swallowed whole by its gaping pores? In 3D, no less? Director Bryan Singer (X-Men) hopes so, because he means to shake up our chilly moviegoer blahs with an enormous adventure filled with ill-tempered, poorly groomed giants. It’s Jack the Giant Slayer, Singer’s attempt to cash in on teen romance, 3D, and the dearth of late winter entertainment.

The story veers a bit from the nursery school fable, in that there’s an adventurous princess, a back stabbing egomaniac suitor, a crown made of giant heart, and no golden goose at all. Plus, there are an awful lot more giants than I remember.

Wisely, Singer sees the opportunity for medieval battle on a grand scale. Like a giant scale. And once we finally get to some action, the film’s a lot of fun. But beware: its prelude is a long slog.

Singer’s first foray into the third dimension bores. Giants look like unconvincing cartoons, the views are nice but not spectacular, and the action sequences – though entertaining – benefit in no way from the technology.

Nicholas Hoult finished Twilight-ing zombies for Warm Bodies just in time to pull that same shit with this old fairy tale. While he’s a very likeable soul, he brings too little energy or magnetism to the screen.

A sly Ewan McGregor, on the other hand, charms as the princess’s main guardian, his ever wackier hairstyle (who knew so much product was available in days of yore?), captivating smile and over-the-top gallantry injecting the flick with some much needed vibrancy.

The great Stanley Tucci finds himself underused – a particular shame because he makes such a great villain, and his comic timing could have helped the film find more enjoyable footing. Also underutilized is Bill Nighy, voice of one of evil giant General Fallon’s heads. Plus, the usually wonderful Ian McShane just looks silly in that suit of gold armor.

Singer’s pace is leaden, and his patchwork script puts off action far too long to keep your attention. The film’s slightly too violent and far too slow for very young viewers, yet too earnest and lumbering for anyone else. The FX can’t even impress.

There’s nothing especially awful about Jack the Giant Slayer (though, I, for one, was hoping for a slightly different ending). Maybe Hollywood thought that good was enough for late winter at the movies.

2 stars (out of 5)