Tag Archives: Mark Rylance

Tears in His Eyes, I Guess

The Phantom of the Open

by George Wolf

Olympic ski jumping found its unlikely warrior in Eddie the Eagle. Championship golf has a similar everyman hero in Maurice Flitcroft, and while Maurice still needs a catchy nickname, his tale finally gets the big screen treatment with The Phantom of the Open.

Maurice actually made his name years before Eddie, when he qualified for the British Open back in 1976.

And?

Up until that time, Maurice was a crane operator at a British shipyard who had never played even one full round of golf.

Cinderella story, meet Cinderella boy.

Well, not exactly, as Maurice shoots the worst round in Open history and quickly runs afoul of the course director (Rhys Ifans).

But a legend is born, and right from the film’s storybook-styled opening, director Craig Roberts (Eternal Beauty) and writer Simon Farnaby (Paddington 2) adapt Scott Murray’s book on Maurice’s often hilarious exploits with a whimsical, endlessly optimistic treatment. It fits like a pair of plaid pants at the 19th hole.

And what perfect casting. Oscar-winner Mark Rylance effortlessly brings Maurice to lovable life as a gentle, indefatigable dreamer. He’s also a soft-spoken family man, devoted to his wife (an equally perfect Sally Hawkins), the older stepson who’s embarrassed by him (Jake Davies) and his twin sons obsessed with disco (Christian and Jonah Lees).

His wife supports him, so why shouldn’t Maurice take a stab at the Open? Why can’t his friend at the shipyard open that pub he’s always wanted? And who says his boys can’t be disco dance champions? The world is your oyster, go find that pearl!

The film may not always share Maurice’s grand ambitions, but it has plenty of good humor and nearly overflows with crowd-pleasing charm. An unassuming ode to staying committed to what – and who – you love, The Phantom of the Open plays to the gallery with an awkward, sweater-vested panache that makes one history-making slouch seem pretty tremendous.

Clothes Make the Man

The Outfit

by George Wolf

The opening minutes of The Outfit give us a master tailor named Leonard (Mark Rylance) describing his process. We see him measuring fabric, cutting and sewing while he outlines his skill in sizing up customers to give them what they most deserve.

Wait..is he still talking about suits?

Maybe, maybe not.

The setting is Chicago in 1956, where Leonard and his dreaming-of-a-better-life secretary Mable (Zoey Deutch) conduct business while local mobsters use Leonard’s shop to retrieve messages from a nationwide crime syndicate known as the Outfit.

One night after a shootout with a rival mob, gangsters Richie (Dylan O’Brien) and Francis (Johnny Flynn) barge into the shop in need of help and refuge. Richie, the son of local boss Roy (Simon Russel Beale) has been shot, and soon most everyone involved will have to fight to survive the long night.

Oscar-winning screenwriter Graham Moore (The Imitation Game) adds directing duties this time as well, for a nifty big screen debut that often homages early Kubrick and classic Hitchcock.

Essentially a two-room chamber piece, the film leans on a terrific ensemble to roll out a steady stream of delicious twists, relishing the nimble noir wordplay and skillfully keeping Moore’s sleight-of-hand from tipping its hand too early.

Fellow Oscar-winner Rylance (Bridge of Spies) is the perfect choice to bring Leonard to life, displaying a seemingly casual excellence right in line with who Leonard seems to be. Will underestimating the quiet shopkeeper prove to be a deadly mistake? Or is it Leonard who will learn a painful lesson tonight?

Rylance peels back the layers slowly, and Moore has good instincts for the pacing that allows for maximum fun. Deutch proves again that she’s a natural, making the most of a more limited role that still boasts an impressive ratio of secrets-to-screen time.

Despite getting a little too cute for the room come finale time, The Outfit is a solid directing debut for an acclaimed screenwriter. And while you can’t help feeling that this salute to the brainy introvert may be a personal one for Moore, it’s artful and engaging enough to rope in anyone who loves untangling a well-fitted suit of clues.

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Comet

Don’t Look Up

by George Wolf

Since Adam McKay shifted into “political” comedy with The Big Short and Vice, it’s become most convenient to label him a satirist. But Don’t Look Up, his latest as writer/director, is more proof that pure satire isn’t quite McKay’s forte.

Not that his work isn’t funny, or astute, or politically charged – it’s all of that. But what McKay does best is his own special blend of outrage, farce, skit-based comedy and yes, moments of satire. The best of the modern satirists – Armando Iannucci, for example – are almost always commenting on one thing by talking about something else. McKay, though, fires slings and arrows that are so often on-the-nose they toe the line between shedding light and making it.

Climate change and disinformation are in McKay’s sights this time, and it isn’t hard to imagine Don’t Look Up being inspired by some exasperated bit of conversation.

“What if some giant, cataclysmic comet were heading straight for Earth? Would that get somebody’s attention?”

Astronomy PhD candidate Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence) discovers just such a comet, and along with her anxiety-prone professor Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio), calculates it will destroy the Earth in precisely 6 months and 14 days.

Sounding the alarm proves harder than they realize.

President Orlean (Meryl Streep, a bit too SNL) and her chief of staff son (Jonah Hill, in pitch perfect Don, Jr. mode) want to “sit tight and assess,” so Kate and Randall take their message to the people. But after an appearance on vapidly positive morning cable news chat, Kate is vilified for her severe bangs and shrill warnings while Randall gets tagged as a PILF and starts getting cozy with TV host Brie Evantee (Cate Blanchett, glorious).

Meanwhile, weird tech CEO Peter Isherwell (Mark Rylance) determines the comet could really be a good thing! It’s composition could be worth billions, so he pushes the administration toward a Star Wars-worthy plan to break it up in pieces small enough to harvest, as uber-angry broadcaster Dan Pawketty (Michael Chiklis) instead wants to focus on the real problem of topless senior caregivers.

What’s left for the little people to do except take sides?

With the clock ticking and the comet now visible overhead, the anti-science crowd preaches “don’t look up” while pop diva Riley Bina (Ariana Grande) belts out a soaring (and surprisingly tuneful) plea to “get your head out of year ass, just look up, turn off that shit FOX News.”

The fertile ground of current pandemic disinformation makes McKay’s mash of Dr. Strangelove and Mars Attacks! seem a little extra urgent. And while Don’t Look Up never matches the satirical majesty of Kubrick, McKay is able to nicely cop the disinformation industry’s circular strategy of reframing evidence against it as evidence supporting it. He knows how his film’s worldview will be attacked, but also how some calculated ridiculousness can be a pre-emptive strike.

But is McKay’s film going to change anyone’s mind? Seriously? No, no it’s not, but he knows that, too.

Hey, if you think our current situation is too dire to have fun with, that’s understandable. But if you can relate to Grande singing, “Celebrate or cry or pray, whatever it takes,” then this is funny stuff. Just don’t mistake the laughs in Don’t Look Up – and there are plenty of them, including a priceless running gag about expensive snacks – for a lack of outrage or conviction. McKay and one of the year’s best ensembles find space for all three.

Sit tight for mid-credits and after-credits stingers, too. And trust me on the snacks thing.

The Whole World Is Watching

The Trial of the Chicago 7

by Hope Madden

Oscar winning, much beloved and frequently frustrating writer Aaron Sorkin first ducked behind the camera for the clever if overwritten 2017 indulgence Molly’s Game.

A courtroom drama (very Sorkin) about celebrity tabloid fodder (less Sorkin-like), the film seemed an odd match for the filmmaker. He’s found a much more comfortable focus in his follow up, the tale of eight defendants, their counsel, prosecution, and a corrupt establishment: The Trial of the Chicago 7.

Chicago 7 artfully and urgently recreates the scene of the federal court hearing against eight defendants alleged to have conspired to incite the infamous riot at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago.

The film rings with historical significance as well as disheartening immediacy. It is another courtroom drama, this one benefitting from surprising restraint, as well as Sorkin’s deep well of passion for the subjects of legal processes and liberalism. Like Ave DuVernay’s 2014 masterpiece Selma, Sorkin’s new film details the past to show us the present.

He’s assembled a remarkable ensemble, each actor leaving an impression though none gets an abundance of screen time. Yahya Abdul-Mateen II is a blistering Bobby Seale while Frank Langella is infuriatingly believable as Judge Julius Hoffman. Eddie Redmayne, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Mark Rylance are all also excellent, as you might expect.

Jeremy Strong and Sacha Baron Cohen share a comfortable, enjoyable chemistry as Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman, respectively. Both appear in the film, as they did in life, as the wise-cracking comic relief in the room, but Cohen’s turn is thoughtful, wise, and slightly tragic. He’s obviously a talent, but this may be the first time we’ve seen the magnitude of his acting prowess.

An alarmingly relevant look at the power of due process, free speech, and justice, Chicago 7 is catapulted by more than the self-righteousness that sometimes weights down Sorkin’s writing. This is outrage, even anger, as well as an urgent optimism about the possibilities in human nature and democracy.

If I may quote my own review of Molly’s Game and my take on Sorkin as a filmmaker:

His are dialogue-driven character pieces where brilliant people throw intellectual and moral challenges at one another while the audience wonders whether the damaged protagonist’s moral compass can still find true north.

Still the case. But with Chicago 7, Sorkin’s struck a balance. He’s found a story and convened a cast that demand and receive his very best, because The Trial of the Chicago 7 is a story about today, this minute.

They Are Us

Waiting for the Barbarians

by George Wolf

In the forty years since J.M. Coetzee’s Waiting for the Barbarians was first published, world events have continued to re-frame its thematic relevance.

Now, the novel finally has a big screen adaptation, amid a tumultuous political climate that again makes Coetzee’s tale feel especially prescient.

In a vaguely historical era within an unnamed “Empire,” the Magistrate (Mark Rylance) governs his desert outpost population through moral conviction and a delicate harmony with the land’s indigenous peoples.

Conversely, Colonel Joll (Johnny Depp) – the soft spoken and sadistic head of state security – believes “pain is truth.” Joll arrives at the outpost to carry out random interrogations of the nomadic “barbarians” and learn the truth about an attack that he feels is imminent.

The Magistrate protests this view of the natives and the Empire’s directives, drawing the ire of Joll and later, his more overtly cruel lieutenant, officer Mandel (Robert Pattinson).

Coetzee’s debut screenplay adapts his own novel with delicate grace and an understated foreboding. But as relevant as the theme of creeping fascism remains, its bite is dulled by ambiguity and broadly-drawn metaphors.

The urge to speak more universally via an unspecified name, time and place is understandable, but it hampers the intimacy required to feel this warning in your gut.

The Oscar-winning Rylance (Bridge of Spies) almost makes up for this by himself, with a tremendous performance of quiet soul-searching. The film’s summer-to-the-following-autumn chapter headings paint the Magistrate as an obvious man for all seasons, and Rylance makes the Magistrate’s journey of fortitude and redemption feel almost biblical.

Depp and Pattinson provide worthy adversarial bookends. As Joll, Depp’s only eccentricity is a pair of sunglasses, but again he requires minimal screen time to carve an indelible figure.

Mandel is an even smaller role, but Pattinson makes him the eager realization of the ugliness Joll keeps bottled up. It’s another interesting choice for the gifted Pattinson, and another film that’s better for it.

Director Ciro Guerra utilizes exquisite cinematography from Chris Menges for a wonderful array of visuals, from beautifully expansive landscapes to artfully orchestrated interior stills. Though the film’s first act feels particularly forced, Guerra (Birds of Passage, Embrace of the Serpent) gives the remaining narrative – especially the Magistrate’s attempts at penance with the tortured Girl (Gana Bayarsaikhan) – the room to effectively breathe.

Waiting for the Barbarians is not a film that will leave you guessing. But the decades-old message remains painfully vital, and in its quietest moments of subtlety, the film gives that message sufficient power.

We Shall Fight on the Beaches

Dunkirk

by Hope Madden

Christopher Nolan, one of the biggest imaginations in film, takes on a WWII epic – the truly amazing evacuation of 400,000 British troops from certain death on the beaches of Dunkirk, France.

Nolan = epic, yes. His career is marked by complicated ideas, phenomenal visual style and inventiveness, ever-increasing running times and head-trippery. So, if you’re prepared for a long, bombastic, serpentine, heady adventure, you are not prepared for Dunkirk.

Though the word epic still fits.

Nolan’s storytelling is simultaneously grand and intimate. To do the story justice, he approaches it from three different perspectives and creates, with a disjointed chronology, a lasting impression of the rescue that a more traditional structure might have missed.

The great Mark Rylance brings in the perspective of the courageous Brits who manned their pleasure boats and headed toward the beleaguered troops to ferry them to safety.

From the air, Tom Hardy and Jack Lowden offer the view (literally and figuratively) of the RAF, undermanned and outgunned, maneuvering to end as much of the carnage as possible while the evac takes place.

And on the ground amongst those desperate for removal is young Tommy (Fionn Whitehead), the actor with the most screen time and quite possibly the fewest lines. He’s the reminder that these soldiers were heroes – flawed, brave, terrified and young.

The cast is appropriately huge, including a surprisingly restrained Kenneth Branagh as well as James D’Arcy, Cillian Murphy, Barry Keoghan, Tom Glynn-Carney and, of course, One Direction’s Harry Styles (who commits himself respectably).

Solid performances abound without a single genuine flaw to point out, but the real star of Dunkirk is Nolan.

Talk about restraint. He dials back the score – Hans Zimmer suggesting the constant tick of a time bomb or the incessant roar of a distant plane engine – to emphasize the urgency and peril, and generating almost unbearable tension.

Visually, Nolan’s scope is breathtaking, oscillating between the gorgeous but terrifying open air of the RAF and the claustrophobic confines of a boat’s hull, with the threat of capsize and a watery grave constant.

What the filmmaker has done with Dunkirk – and has not done with any of his previous efforts, however brilliant or flawed – is create a spare, quick and simple film that is equally epic.

Verdict-4-5-Stars