Tag Archives: Jude Law

Dead Horses and Where to Find Them

Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore

by Hope Madden

After much delay, Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore comes to big screens this weekend. The film is the needless third installment in a 5-part series based on a single 2001 guidebook that walked readers through the various magical animals of the Harry Potter universe. The guidebook’s “author” is Newt Scamander, and Harry Potter has jotted notes throughout it.

That’s it. No narrative, no characters, really. It’s like a little, pretend textbook from Hogwarts.

The book was a semi-adorable cash grab — one additional little scrap to throw the hungry Harry-heads at the height of Pottermania — meant to raise money for charity. And now it’s a planned 5-part series, each installment thus far clocking in at well over two hours.

Oof.

The new adventure catches up with Newt (Eddie Redmayne) assembling a ragtag band of witches, wizards and muggles to help mentor Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) fight the dark magic of Gellert Grindelwald (Mads Mikkelsen).

Grindelwald hates muggles (non-magical losers like us) and wants a war. He’ll deceive, bully, appeal to baser instincts, and when it comes down to it, cheat the election to take over the wizarding world.

It’s a good guys v bad guys tale with loads of Trumpian nods (keep an eye on that newspaper), but that feels hollow given creator/co-writer J.K. Rowling’s history of bullying vulnerable populations. A main role for the recently shameful Ezra Miller (who plays forlorn baddie Credence Barebone) doesn’t help those optics, either.

As superficial spin goes, though, it is nice to have Mikkelsen on board. He replaces Johnny Depp (easily the best thing about the previous installment) as the film’s villain. Where Depp embraced the magical elements and leaned into camp, Mikkelsen is all elegant, understated menace.

The cast boasts a lot of solid, wasted talent. Law continues to charm as the unflappable Dumbledore, Redmayne’s quirk tests patience, Dan Fogler’s a bright spot.

Director David Yates — who directed four HP movies as well as the previous two installments in this franchise — struggles this go-round to even conjure much visual panache to distract from the bloated, overpopulated and underdeveloped script.

Rowling co-writes for the screen again with Steve Kloves, her scripting partner for every Potter and Fantastic Beasts installment. The Potter films often suffered from unimaginative adaptation, which could be chalked up to the writers’ tough time pruning the source material.

No idea what’s to blame here, but these movies are not getting any better.

Risk & Reward

The Nest

by George Wolf

If you saw the quietly unnerving Martha Marcy May Marlene nine years ago and have had the name Sean Durkin filed away since then, you’re not alone. Good news for both of us then, as Durkin finally returns as writer and director with The Nest, another precisely crafted examination of family dynamics.

This time, though, it’s a nuclear family, one that’s slowly imploding before our eyes.

It is the late 80s, and hotshot commodities trader Rory O’Hara (Jude Law) has news for his wife Alison (Carrie Coon): they need to move. Business in New York is drying up, but his native London is “booming.” Alison isn’t loving the idea of uprooting their two kids – and her horse training business – for the fourth time in ten years, but can’t help but be impressed by the 15th century manor Rory has secured in the English countryside.

The place is legendary (“Led Zeppelin stayed here!”), and huge. And from the moment the O’Haras move in, the spaces between them only grow larger.

Though it lacks the sinister edge of MMMM, Durkin’s storytelling here still carries a chill, assembling precise details with a subtlety that often betrays a focused narrative. With a microscope trained on the minutiae of finding a work/life balance, Durkin gives his stellar leads plenty of room to dig indelible, often heartbreaking layers.

Law shows all the easy charm that makes Rory an office favorite, while slowing revealing the cracks in his entitled, high roller facade. Pretending can be harder to sustain than success, and Rory is wearing down.

And Alison – thanks to a wonderful performance from Coon – becomes the weary embodiment of a last nerve exposed. She’s facing the reality of who her husband really is – and grasping for the best way to react. Fortunately, not giving a fuck is one of the options, and Coon makes all of Alison’s frayed edges irresistible.

Still, even as this family breaks down before us like some sort of clinical exercise, Durkin brings a darkly humorous undercurrent to the O’Haras’ way forward that feels like a first step toward honesty.

A house isn’t always a home. The Nest may rarely be comfortable, but it’s strangely inviting, and once you’re inside, plenty hard to look away.

Good Beat, You Can Dance To It

The Rhythm Section

by George Wolf

The sexy assassin. The beautiful killing machine.

The Rhythm Section plays a tune that’s lately been as popular as Taylor Swift at the high school talent show. But hey, there’s still a ways to go before it catches up to the macho men, so have at it ladies, the right arrangement can always find some swing in the mustiest of standards.

Blake Lively is Stephanie, a top student at Oxford who falls hard after losing her family to an airplane bomber. How hard? She’s an addict and a prostitute, but her destructive spiral finds a new avenue when an investigative reporter seeks her out.

He’s on the trail of the terrorist responsible for the bombing, and Stephanie’s cooperation sets a chain of events in motion that quickly lead to an ex MI-6 operative (Jude Law) training her to be a killer.

And why would he do that, exactly?

Keep that question at bay and you’ll find a serviceable thriller that hits plenty of familiar beats, but is always kept watchable through Lively’s committed performance.

Screenwriter Mark Burnell adapts his own novel as a globe-trotting exercise in exorcising your demons. And while multiple character motivations can get murky, the relationship between Stephanie and her mysterious mentor is always engaging.

Director Reed Morano (I Think We’re Alone Now, TV projects such as The Handmaid’s Tale and Halt and Catch Fire) can stage a nifty fight scene and breathless car chase, but she too often seems desperately in search of a definitive style that never finds a groove.

While soundtrack choices and soft focus flashbacks feel forced, Morano’s detached treatment of Lively’s physical appearance may be the most original pillar in the film. Though her role is plenty physical and Lively never shrinks from it, even the obligatory “red sparrow” sequence offers an overdue counterpoint to the usual leering camera served up by Morano’s male counterparts.

Expect the usual questions of “who can I trust” and the usual fine performance from Sterling K. Brown (that guy’s busy), who shows up as an ex-CIA agent with valuable contacts.

But most of all, expect Lively to keep The Rhythm Section humming, even when it’s set on repeat.

Just a Girl

Captain Marvel

by MaddWolf

We had very high expectations for Captain Marvel.

Because showcasing this historic, female Marvel hero offers the chance to see everything from a new lens?

That’s awesome, but no.

Because Oscar-winner Brie Larson is always a kick and we could not wait to see what she could do with such a big movie?

True, but no.

We were pumped because writers/directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck are amazing filmmakers and we always, always have high expectations for their work. Who cares that it‘s a superhero movie? True, they’ve made their names with indie standouts (Half Nelson, Sugar), but we were betting they could move the setting to “blockbuster” and keep their character-based storytelling instincts.

After a wobbly start, that bet pays off.

So does Larson. She commands the screen—not to mention earthlings and aliens alike—and is a flat-out gas as Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel. Even better is the way Boden and Fleck address sexism with a character who’s basically just always pissed off.

Agent Fury (Sam Jackson – hilarious) is right: the “grunge thing” suits her.

Grunge is a thing because Captain Marvel wallows gleefully in all things 90s – especially the tunes. A glorious action sequence set to Gwen Stefani’s “Just a Girl” is a high point, and could’ve rivaled Kingsman‘s “Free Bird” segment if given a Skynyrd-level running time (lighters down, please). A needle-on-turntable shot seems a bit out of place, but hey, that Nirvana tune that follows goes down just fine.

The throwback vibe entertains and the clever soundtrack kicks all manner of ass—as does Marvel. The humor feels mostly right, the galactic tensions carry greater weight as the film progresses, and both the mid and end credits stingers are winners.

Boden and Fleck (with co-writer Geneva Robertson-Dworet) streamline Danvers’s comic book history effectively, but as is often the case with these origin stories, act 1 still sputters, betraying a lack of intergalactic vision (or too much of a fondness for cheap-ass Star Trek movies). Once Vers (The Captain’s pre-metamorphosis name) hits earth and some deeper themes are woven into the fun, Captain Marvel finds its groove.

Much of that is thanks to Jackson, whose chemistry with everyone is his trademark in films, and his screen time with Larson is always a sparkling, witty treat. Because of its time stamp, the film can also craft an engaging origin story for Fury, Coulson (Clark Gregg) and the entire Avengers project, aided by continually amazing advancements in digital fountains of youth.

Jude Law, Annette Bening and Lashana Lynch sparkle in a supporting cast buoyed by Ben Mendelsohn’s welcome presence. Playing sometimes with, and sometimes against type, he reminds Big Box Office audiences that he’s so much more than his scenery-chewing villains of late. (Boden and Fleck, who cast him in their amazing poker flick Mississippi Grind, already knew this.)

So, over 20 films and DC’s Wonder Woman success later, the MCU offers its first female lead, a fact certainly not lost on Boden and Fleck. They pull no punches when it comes to the idea of heroism: question authority, don’t let anyone tell you what you can and can’t accomplish, fuck mansplaining. Oh, and heroes rescue refugees, they don’t cause them more suffering.

And as much as Wonder Woman earned its acclaim, Marvel manages to one-up DC yet again. Captain Marvel is anchored by even more unabashed girl power, and stands strong on its own while whetting your appetite for what comes next.

 





Stage Mother

Vox Lux

by Hope Madden and George Wolf

No doubt you’re hip to the talent of Natalie Portman.

But if you only know Brady Corbet as an actor (Funny Games, Melancholia, Simon Killer), or maybe don’t know him at all, get to know Corbet the visionary filmmaker.

Corbett writes and directs an astute and unusual pop ballad about celebrity—American celebrity, at that.

Vox Lux opens in 1999 as young Celeste (Raffey Cassidy, The Killing of a Sacred Deer) and her high school class are visited by a disgruntled young white male. Corbet’s camera plays with the horror of the scene as it dawns on those in the classroom as well as the audience what is about to happen.

As Celeste heals from a bullet to the spine, she and her older sister Eleanor (Stacy Martin) work through their collective grief and trauma by writing a song, which Celeste later performs at a memorial vigil.

Thanks to the astute strategy of a no-nonsense manager (Jude Law) and straightforward publicist (Jennifer Ehle), the song becomes a healing anthem and Celeste—her protective sister at her side—is launched into pop stardom.

Corbet’s chaptered “21st Century Portrait” (the proper subtitle to his film) offers infrequent omniscient narration from Willem Dafoe, a glib narrative device that’s part “Behind the Music” and part sociological commentary. Tragedy is commodity in modern America, a fact that can only mean more tragedy.

When the timeline shifts forward and Portman takes over in the lead, we see a new character fully formed from years of living that are only hinted at. Celeste is now a veteran megastar with a daughter of her own (also played by Cassidy) and strained relationships with everyone around her.

Portman’s performance is such an all-in tour de force it effectively divides the film into parts: with and without her. She commands the screen with such totality you’re afraid of what Celeste might do if you dare to shift your focus somewhere else.

Corbet knows better than to do that. With Portman as a mesmerizing guide, he crafts a fascinating fable with two uniquely American pillars – gun violence and celebrity culture. Vox Lux is shocking, funny, sad, and haunting, with plenty of visual flourish and even some new songs by Sia.

It’s a statement, and coming from a relatively unknown writer/director, a pretty audacious one.

Keep ’em coming, Corbet.

 

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dolxUIZzb3w





Lock, Stock and One Smoking Sword

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword

by Hope Madden

Right, Guy Ritchie’s medieval-ish sorcery fable King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is bad.

But how bad is it?

Or more to the point, how Guy Ritchie is it?

The filmmaker mixes his trademark hypothetical-scenarios, quick-cut montages and period anachronisms with video game quality CGI, and it’s hard to decide which approach is more ill-suited to the material.

Or is the bigger issue the fact that this story – among the oldest, simplest, most re-told in the history of the English language – is befuddled beyond recognition once Ritchie and his team of co-writers have their way with it?

The film opens appealingly enough: King Uther (Eric Bana) hands his crown to his brother Vortigern (Jude Law) to hold while he single-swordedly defeats the villainous wizard Mordred – who controls super colossal elephant beasts with his mind!

This makes Jude Law’s nose bleed, so we know something’s up. Next thing you know, there are hungry sea-serpent siren things, Uther’s attacked, and little bitty Arthur finds himself floating Moses-like toward Londinium and the waiting arms of some golden-hearted prostitutes.

Flash forward through the first of several watch-him-become-a-man montages and Charlie Hunnam appears. Street savvy, tough, flippant and boasting what can only be the work of the most stylish barber in all of Londinium, he runs afoul of the king and accidentally pulls Excalibur from its stone. He’d just as soon put it back.

He’s reluctant! He doesn’t want all this! He’s just a regular guy – who looks like super-cut Charlie Hunnam and says things like “ya big, silly, posh bastard.”

And if you think he seems out of place in about-to-be-Arthurian England, check out Jude Law and his leather blazer and matching skinny jeans.

But what did you expect – that he wouldn’t Guy Ritchie this thing? It’s Game of Thrones meets Sherlock Holmes (the Ritchie version). And that wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing.

The Arthurian legend can be a stiff slog, and a little shot of style could enliven things. Unfortunately, Ritchie buries every stylistic choice he makes under charmless and pace-deadening CGI.

It would take more than magic to save this thing.

Verdict-2-0-Stars





Side Effects may include unusual career choices

by Hope Madden

Director Steven Soderbergh has worked with screenwriter Scott Z. Burns three times now, each instance a bit weaker than the last. Their first collaboration, The Informant!, was an unhinged gem of a flick owing as much to Matt Damon’s outstanding performance as to Burns’s knack with the English language. Next came Contagion, a better box office performer, but a less inspired effort.

Their third collaboration, Side Effects, offers a mystery thriller inside the world of pharmaceuticals. As is often the case with mystery thrillers, to say much more would be to give away too much. Coursing with Soderbergh’s cynicism and varnished with his laid back style, the film has more in store for you than the diatribe against Big Pharm it appears to deliver at first.

Unfortunately, plot holes seriously interrupt the impact of the mystery, but a solid cast helps bridge those gaps. Jude Law evolves cleverly from the modern doctor – overworked and ambitious – to something more raw, dirty and real. As his patient, Rooney Mara (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) carries the film. It’s her picture, and she does with it what she wishes, thank God.

Like Soderbergh’s last several efforts – all mid-budget, off-season genre pics – Side Effects is an absorbing bit of entertainment you’ll dismiss after viewing. It’s better than most February releases, but worse than most Soderbergh pictures. What a funny turn for a career that began with the game changer Sex, Lies & Videotape.

3 stars (out of 5)