Tag Archives: Javier Bardem

Ballin’

Being the Ricardos

by Hope Madden

Nicole Kidman does not look like Lucille Ball. Javier Bardem does not look like Desi Arnaz. You’ll forget that not long into Being the Ricardos, a change of pace for writer/director Aaron Sorkin.

Sorkin’s biopic shadows the couple through one particularly tumultuous week in their lives as a married couple as well as TV superstars.

Kidman has the voice, the attitude, and the wearied wit to bring Lucille Ball to life. Her brittle, believable turn grapples with the pressures of being Hollywood’s most bankable comic genius. Lucille Ball was the biggest TV star on earth, a massive moneymaking machine whose eye for physical comedy and ear for lazy comic riffs elevated content and deflated co-stars and co-workers. Kidman plays a boss pretending not to be the boss and bristling at the compromise.

Those populating the soundstage and writers room around her — Nina Arianda, Tony Hale, Alia Shawkat and a bland Jake Lacy — create a fractured work dynamic looking to collapse under this particular week’s unprecedented pressure due to a leaked news story about Lucy.

Besides Kidman, the two big standouts are not surprising. JK Simmons, who’s never turned in an unremarkable performance in his life, wrestles with a character who would be easy to dismiss or despise. In the veteran’s hands, though, William Frawley (I Love Lucy’s Fred Mertz) is the tender, well-meaning if wrong-headed voice of the times.

Bardem oozes charm, charisma and aptitude as Ball’s under-regarded husband. Vanity and vulnerability roil quietly, almost out of sight, and Bardem’s chemistry with Kidman sparkles.

Being the Ricardos is not funny, and it’s hard to fathom a film about Ball that isn’t at least incidentally funny. But let’s be honest, comedy is not really Sorkin’s bag. The way he looks at success, particularly for a woman at this time period, is as smart as anything he’s done.

Sorkin reins in his characteristic rat-a-tat-tat hyper-intellectual dialog just enough to let characters be human. Their on-screen personas meet their off-screen realities in a way that allows a firmly remarkable cast to deliver twice the goods.

Many Mansions

mother!

by Hope Madden

Darren Aronofsky is grappling with some things.

For those of you who know the writer/director primarily for his streamlined, intimate films like The Wrestler, mother! may come as a bit of a surprise.

For the rest of us, mother! may come as a bit of a surprise.

How do you feel about metaphor?

Jennifer Lawrence stars as the very young wife of a middle-aged poet with writer’s block (Javier Bardem). While he stares at a blank piece of paper, she quietly busies herself restoring every room and detail in his remote, fire-damaged home—now their home.

Their peace is disturbed by a man (Ed Harris) knocking at the door, soon followed by a woman (Michelle Pfieffer—look for her name come Oscar time). The poet is only too happy to offer the strangers a place to stay, and this is bad news for the poet’s wife.

Between Aronofsky’s disorienting camera and his cast’s impeccable performances, he ratchets up tension in a way that is beyond uncomfortable. This is all clearly leading somewhere very wrong and the film develops the atmosphere of a nightmare quickly, descending further and further with each scene.

Many a horror film has been built around writer’s block, but Aronofsky has more on his mind than that. The larger concept of creation and all its complications: male versus female, celebrity, consumption, art and commerce. Also maybe the self-destructive nature of humanity as well as its tendency toward regeneration and rot. And being God.

Aronofsky picks up many of the themes that have run through his work, from Requiem for a Dream to The Fountain through Black Swan and Noah.

God as creator, god as creation. Gender politics and the nature of man.

Or is it all just one man’s frustration at not being able to give birth?

Hard to say, really. It’s a big stew, and it’s equal parts self-indulgent and self-pitying. Aronofsky is a daring filmmaker and an artist that feels no compulsion to hide his preoccupations.

Like most of the filmmaker’s work, mother! will not be for everyone. But if you’re up for an allegorical descent into hell, meticulously crafted and deftly told, and if you like your metaphors heavy and your climaxes absurd, this mother! is for you.





Lost at Sea

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

by Hope Madden

Summer is the season for amusement parks, and in that spirit Disney rolls out the closest thing cinema has to a theme park ride – Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales.

Pros: New directors Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg (Kon Tiki) keep the pace tighter, the tale more seafaring and the visuals more interesting than in the last few (almost unendurable) installments.

Cons: Disney has brought the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise back.

The series began as a pretty enormous gamble, taking a popular Disneyland ride and turning it into a movie.

Brilliantly, this put the not-yet-self-indulgent talent of Gore Verbinski behind a camera, but let’s be honest, it was Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack Sparrow that made the film.

All swoozy and splishy, drunk and dodgy, hilariously rock and roll, Sparrow made all of us wish for the pirate’s life. It was fun. It was ingenious, even a bit subversive. It was nearly 15 years ago.

In the meantime, Cap’s adventures have taken on the stench of bloat.

By 2017, Depp is a has-been with a terrible drinking habit. Sure he’s still cute, but there’s something a tad pathetic about him and the consistently bad choices he makes.

As Jack Sparrow, I mean.

Obviously.

Geoffrey Rush returns as Barbosa – intriguing as always. He’s joined by Javier Bardem, arguably one of the three or four best actors working today, wasted here in an underwritten, toothless role. He plays about 2/3 of dead sea captain Salazar, blandly bent on revenge.

What – zombie pirates? Next you’ll tell me Jack’s about to be executed in a town square, or find himself stranded with crazies on a desert island. Or that there will be a pirate cameo from a classic rock star.

Oh, Paul McCartney…

The accursed Salazar wants Sparrow. Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites) – son of Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) – wants Sparrow too, to help him find Poseidon’s Trident, which can break all the curses of the sea and save ol’ Dad.

Also there’s a young female love interest (Kaya Scodelario) – a woman of science mistaken by society as a witch. It’s a storyline that could have been interesting, I suppose, but Jeff Nathanson’s screenplay uses it to nod toward feminism while glimpsing a corset-pushed bosom.

Dead Men Tell No Tales (they do, by the way – tons of them) might seem to some an affectionate wrap up of a once-beloved and now tolerated family film series. Don’t believe it – Rønning and Sandberg are already tapped to direct Episode 6.

Can Poseidon’s Trident put an end to this franchise?

Verdict-2-0-Stars





Paging Mr. Neeson

The Gunman

by Hope Madden

Taken director Pierre Morel helms a film where a middle aged man with a particular set of skills finds himself marked for death and must shoot/stab/explode/punch his way out of it to redeem himself and save the one he loves. At first blush, The Gunman just looks like a Liam Neeson movie with a better cast, right? Not quite.

Sean Penn (2-time Oscar winner and 5-time nominee) goes beefcake as Terrier, the retired and oft shirtless gun-for-hire who gets pulled back in. Terrier was once a triggerman for a Democratic Republic of Congo assassination, but he’s carried that guilt and the remorse over a bad breakup for 8 years. Now, with a plot against his life (the contrivance that gets him into and out of hot water is beyond ludicrous), he sets out to make amends.

Penn cannot find his footing as an action hero. Yes, he now has the build for it, but his performance is laborious. Whether he’s smooshy and romantic or single mindedly ripping through foes, nothing has the honesty of his dramatic work or the exciting edge of an action flick.

Flanking Penn are Oscar winner and 3-time nominee Javier Bardem (arguably the best actor of his generation) and the endlessly underrated character actor Ray Winstone. Both men are worth watching, each chewing scenery just enough to keep their screen time vibrant and intriguing. Neither actor has ever turned in a lackluster performance, and this film needs that level of generosity and skill.

Unfortunately for us, the great Idris Alba is woefully underused and Terrier’s love interest Annie (Jasmine Trinca) is both predictably bland and, at twenty-plus years Penn’s junior, embarrassingly young for the effort.

Morel cannot find a usable path through the convoluted story and the only tensions that feel real at all are those in fleeting scenes between Penn and Bardem. There’s a murkiness to the script that requires more skill than Morel has ever shown, and the final product suffers from misplaced drama, uneven tensions, badly tacked on symbolism and misspent artistic capital.

At least with Neeson’s current catalog you know what you’re in for. The Gunman doesn’t know what it is. Too plodding to be an action movie, too obvious to be a thriller, too needlessly bloody to be a drama, The Gunman is a man without a country.

Verdict-2-5-Stars