Tag Archives: Jamie Bell

Rock and Roll Fantasy

Rocketman

by George Wolf

So, Elton John won’t be singing in the movie about Elton John?

Seems weird, until you see how well Rocketman incorporates decades of indelible music into one vastly entertaining portrait of the iconic rock star who stands second only to Elvis in career solo hits.

Driven by a wonderfully layered performance from Taron Egerton – who also handles his vocal duties just fine – the film eschews the standard biopic playbook for a splendid rock and roll fantasy.

Kudos to writer Lee Hall and director Dexter Fletcher for knowing we’ve seen this rise/drugs/fall arc before, and knowing how to pool their talents for an ambitious take.

Hall wrote Billy Elliot and Fletcher is fresh off co-directing Bohemian Rhapsody. Their vision draws from both to land somewhere between the enigmatic Dylan biopic I’m Not There and the effervescent ABBA glitter bomb Mamma Mia.

Narratively grounded in Elton’s first visit to rehab, Rocketman cherry-picks the hits for resplendent musical set pieces that accompany the blossoming of a shy English youngster named Reginald Kenneth Dwight into the flamboyant global superstar known as Elton Hercules John.

Wounded by an uninterested father (Steven Mackintosh) and an adversarial mother (Bryce Dallas Howard – never better) Reggie sought acceptance through his musical talent. A happenstance introduction to lyricist Bernie Taupin (a quietly effective Jamie Bell) brought unexpected success and then, the obligatory wretched excess.

Even without Fletcher’s involvement, comparisons to Bohemian Rhapsody (now the most successful music biopic to date) were inevitable, but Rocketman leaves the stage as a vastly superior film.

While the close-to-the-safety-vest nature of Queen’s trajectory rendered every artistic license ripe for scrutiny, Rocketman‘s R-rated frankness and fantastical tapestries leave ample room for crowd-pleasing maneuvers.

Of course the kickers-clad schoolboy didn’t pound out “The Bitch is Back” on his living room piano, the aspiring songwriter didn’t sing “Sad Songs” at a 1960s audition, and the overnight sensation didn’t “Crocodile Rock” at his legendary 1970 stint at The Troubadour.

But in the world of Rocketman, anything is possible. And even with all the eccentric flights of fancy, the film holds true to an ultimately touching honesty about the life story it’s telling.

And, oh yeah, the songs are still pretty great, too (no matter who’s singing them).

The Great Outdoor Fight

Donnybrook

by Matt Weiner

Go into Donnybrook expecting an action movie about bare knuckle fighting and you’re going to be sorely disappointed: there’s more road movie than Rocky. But director Tim Sutton’s dissection of American desperation is out to expose the underbelly of more than just backyard brawling.

Sutton adapts Frank Bill’s novel with unrelenting sparseness. The movie centers on the intertwined lives of Jarhead Earl (Jamie Bell) and Chainsaw and Delia Angus (Frank Grillo and Margaret Qualley) as they pursue the limited versions of the American dream available to them in rural, addiction-ravaged Ohio.

Earl wants to win the Donnybrook, a legendary underground fight whose winnings will allow him to give his family a better life. Delia just wants to sell a bunch of meth so she can escape dead-end life with her abusive brother. And Chainsaw Angus just wants all that meth back that his sister stole. (You know a situation is dire anytime someone steals drugs from a person named Chainsaw.)

Donnybrook is violent but not gratuitous. As the characters’ lives converge on the road to the fight, the flashes of violence that build toward the climax serve mostly as a reminder of the pervasive despair everyone is running away from.

Grillo plays Chainsaw Angus as a relentless force that blows right through anyone and everyone he comes in contact with—men, women and children alike. There’s more than a touch of Coens-meet-McCarthy to Sutton’s adaptation, and not just in Angus’s almost elemental pursuit.

Earl’s milieu echoes the Appalachian noir of Winter’s Bone, but with a contemporary urgency all its own. Unfortunately, the film’s singular devotion to its economically downtrodden message leads to some shortcuts for the characters.

Delia doesn’t get the space to expand beyond her tragic archetype, but the movie is at least an equal opportunity offender when it comes to dispensing with supporting stereotypes: James Badge Dale’s alcoholic cop could be removed entirely and the story wouldn’t miss a beat.

The degree to which Sutton’s languid, dream-like depictions of this world succeed in amounting to a whole greater than their parts will probably come down to how much you think we need another Fight Club-style examination of a narrow (and uniformly white) male anger.

Giving that perspective such lyric treatment is certainly a choice. Even when the blows don’t connect, there’s something to be said for action with ambition.

 

 





It’s Mainly Liverpudlians

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool

by Hope Madden

Jamie Bell is a versatile, talented actor too often relegated to minor roles.

Annette Bening has always been a powerful performer.

Director Paul McGuigan—Victor Frankenstein, Lucky Number Slevin, Wicker Park—is, unfortunately, just not that good.

So, there you have it. In their collaboration, Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool, Bening and Bell generate honest chemistry while imbuing their characters with relatable flaws and beauty. McGuigan surrounds them with flashy staging conceits and the single ugliest wallpaper the world has ever known.

It’s 1979 in Liverpool, and struggling young actor Peter Turner (Bell) makes the acquaintance of his quirky new neighbor, former silver screen siren Gloria Graham (Bening).

A one-time Oscar winner fallen on hard times, pretty, flirty and nearly 30-years his senior, Gloria is a mystery to Turner and, in turn, to us. Here is where the two leads rise above their script to develop something touching and lovely, something that mines the earth between starstruck and true love. It’s wonderful to behold.

Bening adopts a baby voice as she oscillates between headstrong and insecure, but she seems to fully understand this figure who, in her time, was a daily scandal. Bening moves from seductress to damaged old woman and back again with fluidity and without excuses.

Here’s how McGuigan wrecks it.

1) We get it. It’s the Seventies. Does every surface—including co-star Stephen Graham’s head—have to be covered in garish, patterned shag? The costume and set design are beyond distracting. They will actually make you dizzy.

2) Bening cannot help but pique your interest in Gloria Graham’s life, and several courtship scenes expose something unique and quite worth an entire film. Unfortunately, the movie itself is a maudlin exercise in watching the decay of a once-vibrant woman, punctuated by flashes of that vibrancy.

3) He picks at themes of humanizing that which we objectify, even using fun visual nods to the seductive artifice of movies to slide between time spans, but he can’t truly abandon blandly by-the-numbers storytelling.

Which is a shame because, between the two stellar leads and a handful of amazing supporting turns (Vanessa Redgrave and Frances Barber leave marks) there was really something here.





Occupy the Bar Car

 

Snowpiercer

by George Wolf

 

Those pinhead libs in Hollywood are at it again! This time, they’ve got something called Snowpiercer, and are trying to distract us with simmering tension, a smart script and terrific action, but the hidden agenda is clearly just another unwarranted attack on our job creators!

Actually, the agenda is far from hidden, in fact, it might as well be a deadly-aimed snowball right to the face of John Galt.

And damn, it’s well done.

Adapted from a 1982 French graphic novel, Snowpiercer drops us in the year 2031, 17 years after a desperate attempt to curb global warming instead resulted in a new ice age. What’s left of humanity travels the globe on a high speed train, where a very specific social order is enforced. Can you guess?

Makers in the luxurious front, takers in the squalid back.

But there’s a revolution brewing, reluctantly led by the cunning, pensive Curtis (Chris Evans, solid again) and his eager, impulsive sideman Edgar (Jamie Bell). After another degrading “know your place” speech by Minister Mason (Tilda Swinton, gloriously over-the-top), the charge to take over the train begins.

In his English-language debut, South Korean director/co-writer Joon-ho Bong flexes some serious filmmaking muscle. Bong (The Host, Mother) takes full advantage of the claustrophobic setting, both as a metaphor for the ills of society and as a springboard for spectacularly realized action sequences.

His pacing is impeccable as well, ratcheting up the tension incrementally as the rebels advance one train car at a time.

Snowpiercer is a film that’s also very aware of the well-worn path it treads. The story, born in the days of Reaganomics, employs a very high-concept premise to illustrate its still-relevant themes. Bong suspends any disbelief with a mixture of B-movie earnestness and black comedy, as well as constant nods to today’s political climate (notice how Swinton enunciates “occupy”) and classic films of years past (from Soylent Green to The Shining).

It’s all completely captivating, and downright refreshing in the way Bong and his game cast (also featuring John Hurt, Octavia Spencer and South Korean film vet Kang-ho Song) respect both the material and their audience. Even the most fervent critics of the “Hollywood elite” may appreciate the questions raised about personal sacrifice and abuse of power.

By the time the Twilight Zone-style dominoes start falling near film’s end, you realize the most thrilling ride of the summer may not be at the amusement park after all.

 

Verdict-4-0-Stars

 

 





Nympho, and Proud of It!

 

Nymphomaniac:  Vol. II

by George Wolf

When we left Joe’s life story at the close of Lars von Trier’s Nymphomaniac:  Vol. I, she had finally married Jerome (Shia LeBeouf), only to find she had lost the ability for sexual pleasure.

Well, she put it a bit more bluntly than that, but you know Joe!

In case you don’t..Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) has been telling her tale to the curious intellectual Seligman (Stellan Skarsgard). After finding Joe lying in the street badly beaten, Seligman took her to his place for recovery, and has been sitting at her bedside as she recounts a life dominated by her insatiable nature. 

While Vol. I was an effective, if uneven, look at a woman unabashedly in control of her sexuality, Vol. II dissolves into the brilliant but misunderstood filmmaker shaking his fist at an unworthy society.

Joe’s story continues, and we see her exploring more extreme sexual experiences (some depicted graphically enough to earn you college biology credits), including regular appointments for physical abuse at the hands of an S&M “counselor” (Jamie Bell, quietly disturbing).

This behavior naturally takes a toll on Joe’s role as a wife and mother, as well as her ability to hold down a job. But, her experience with men is valued by shady character “L” (Willem Dafoe), and she accepts his offer to go to work in his “debt collection” department.

As Joe brings events closer to the point where Seligman found her, von Trier’s script gives Joe long, philosophical speeches while Seligman serves as the vehicle for convenient straw man arguments von Trier is eager for Joe to knock down.

After years of being of accused of misanthropy, von Trier has been silent since his controversial Hitler comments a few years back. When Joe proclaims she cannot say “whether I left society or it left me,” it’s not hard to guess who “me” really is.

Vol. II‘s main advantage over Vol. I is Gainsbourg. While Stacy Martin was indeed impressive as the younger Joe, she can’t match the emotions Gainsbourg explores. Mining her character’s experiences for every bit of depth, Gainsbourg never allows you to feel it’s safe to take your eyes off of Joe. She’s good enough to almost make up for the absence of Uma Thurman’s comically tragic, absolutely show-stopping performance from the first installment.  Almost.

LvT continues to be a filmmaker that should never be ignored, but Nymphomaniac:  Vol. II ultimately feels like a missed opportunity.

What could have been an expanded take on how society views sexually powerful women instead becomes akin to a public stunt, a vehicle for von Trier to proclaim that he is what he is, and he ain’t ashamed.

 

Verdict-2-5-Stars