Tag Archives: Mark Strong

Sympathy for the Devil

Stockholm

by Hope Madden

It’s amazing to think that a film has never been made of the heist that created the term “Stockholm Syndrome.”

Well, writer/director Robert Budreau has rectified this situation with his Ethan Hawke-led semi comedy, Stockholm.

Hawke, who starred in Budreau’s 2015 Chet Baker biopic Born to Be Blue, plays Lars Nystrom. A bewigged bandit, Nystrom concocts a 1973 bank heist with different goals than your traditional smash and grab.

By taking a couple of hostages, Lars hopes to win the freedom of his best friend, imprisoned bank robber Gunnar Sorensson (Mark Strong).

The always-welcome Strong creates a tender and level-headed counterpoint to Hawke’s endearing, idealistic dumbass. The lead wheel to the film’s cinematic tricycle comes from the quietly powerful work of Noomi Rapace (the original Girl with the Dragon Tattoo).

Playing Bianca Lind, one of Nystrom’s hostages, Rapace’s plaintive performance suggests a character who relies on observation and personal judgment. Never showy, Rapace becomes the gravitational force that tethers flighty characters and wild antics to a realistic foundation.

Budreau seems to be asking himself how it’s possible for captives to choose to side with their captors. Credit the filmmaker for avoiding the pitfall of casting the authorities as one-dimensional bullies or buffoons. Christopher Heyerdahl is particularly effective as Chief Mattsson, a good man who’s n a bit over his head.

Stockholm’s greatest strength, besides the understated playfulness of its cast, is the light touch Budreau brings to presenting the two sides of the standoff. And yet, in the end, he ensures that we the audience do, indeed, feel more compelled by the outlaws.

It’s a subtle act of manipulation perpetrated by Budreau, but not so terrible as to sink the film. The filmmaker’s real miss is in his superficial look at the environment within the vault that brought the captives and captors together.

Thanks to a fine cast that’s able to toe Budreau’s unusual line between comedy and drama, though, you’ll find yourself strangely fond of everyone involved.

Word Up or Nerd Up

Shazam!

by George Wolf

To paraphrase a classic segment from the old Letterman show: Can a guy in a supersuit get into a strip club?

Easily, which is pretty exciting for the teenage boy inside the super man inside the suit. And it’s just one example of the irreverent vibe Shazam! rides to bring home one of the most fun origin stories in recent memory.

The teenage boy is Billy Batson (Asher Angel), who’s just been placed in the latest of a string of foster homes. Just as he’s getting to know his foster family, including the superhero-crazed Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer from IT, impressive again), Billy is chosen to replace the aging Wizard Shazam (Djimon Hounsou) as protector of the Realms, bringing a youthful energy that will ensure the Seven Deadly Sin-Monsters cannot assume Earthly forms.

The super-villainous Dr. Thaddeus Silva (Mark Strong, gloriously slimy) does not approve, and vows to defeat the new Shazam (Zachary Levi) and assume all his powers.

So it’s on!

But first, Billy and Freddy have to find out just what superpowers are brought on by saying that magic word, which sets up a series of amusing tests and is the springboard for getting to know this grown up superboy while he mulls over possible super names.

“Thundercrack?” “No! That sounds like a butt thing.”

If you’re thinking Big (and the film acknowledges that you are with a cute homage), you’re right on. Writer Henry Gayden (Earth to Echo) fills the script with action, humor, heart and spunk, while director David F. Sandberg (Lights Out) keeps things lively and engaging with plenty of impressive visual pop.

The entire cast is wonderfully diverse and consistently winning, and a few corny moments aside, makes the feels on friendship, family and responsibility land nearly as flush as the winking riffs on superhero tropes.

There really isn’t much Shazam! doesn’t deliver (okay, maybe it delivers a slightly bloated running time that includes two post-credits stingers), and as fast as you can say the magic word, DC has the best film in its universe since Bale was the Bat.

 





Take Me Out to the Spy Game

The Catcher Was a Spy

by George Wolf

The Catcher Was a Spy features a surprisingly impressive lead performance from Paul Rudd. It’s not his talent that surprises, but rather the role as enigmatic baseball player turned wartime spy.

This isn’t what we’ve come to expect from the always welcome Rudd, which makes him that much more appealing for branching out.

Dammit, Rudd, you likable rogue!

He stars as true life legend Moe Berg, who spent fifteen years as a Major Leaguer in the years before WWII. Though never a superstar, he was a well-respected and durable catcher with many other talents that proved useful.

A Princeton grad with multiple degrees, Berg spoke several languages and was fiercely private. With his playing career over and a war raging, Berg’s intellect, discretion and communication skills were valued at the O.S.S., where he was trained as a spy and tasked with assassinating the German physicist (Mark Strong) getting dangerously close to developing a nuclear bomb.

Woah.

Director Ben Lewin (The Sessions) fills his throwback yarn with the requisite newsreel voiceovers and shadowy set pieces for a satisfactory spy thriller, but makes more of a mark through the intimate workings of Rudd and the supporting cast.

We’re told Berg is an enigma, but Rudd makes us feel it. From his blunt honesty to his sexual history, Berg’s nature always seems a bit out of step with the crowd, and Rudd provides the humanity to get us on his side while he stokes our curiosity.

Supporting players, including Jeff Daniels, Sienna Miller, Paul Giamatti and Guy Pearce, are equally strong, cementing the relationships that elevate the adapted script from writer Robert Rodat (Saving Private Ryan).

As a spy drama, The Catcher remains fairly routine. Its power comes from its intimacy, getting just close enough to a mysterious, fascinating figure without disrespecting that figure’s commitment to mystery.

 





Whisky Dicks

Kingsman: The Golden Circle

by Matt Weiner

There was a fleeting moment early in Kingsman: The Golden Circle when I thought that the new film might be atoning for the biggest misfire in the first one. One hour and one novel use of an inside-the-body POV shot later, I realized I should have known better.

Just like first movie, Kingsman: The Golden Circle (again directed by Matthew Vaughn, and written by Vaughn and Jane Goldman) delights in its attempts to set up the familiar contours of a spy movie and then gleefully take the piss out of them, to hell with audience expectations.

Unfortunately, the film also doubles down on everything—the good, the bad and the truly repulsive—from the first one.

We barely have time to be reunited with Eggsy aka “Galahad” (Taron Egerton), Merlin (Mark Strong) and the rest of Kingsman before the two men find themselves all alone against a worldwide threat yet again. (This would be a good time to point out that for a super-secret highly trained spy agency, it sure seems easy to wipe them out every few years.) Following the only lifeline they’ve got, Galahad and Merlin head to America to revive a special relationship with Statesman, their booze-swilling, Southern-drawling counterparts.

The Statesman universe is an American funhouse of Kingsman, complete with a lone Q-type (Halle Berry) somehow serving the entire agency. While the Statesman introduction gets in a few digs at us bumpkins across the pond, it’s hard not to sense that the main purpose is to tease some big names for future installments. That, and also—spoiler—to explain the resurrection of Eggsy’s mentor, Harry Hart (Colin Firth).

Working together, Kingsman and Statesman cut, shoot and lasso a swath of carnage across the globe in pursuit of drug lord and big-time Elton John fan Poppy (Julianne Moore) attempting to murder hundreds of millions.

I want to like the world of Kingsman. I really do. The first film was fresh, briskly shot and gave its characters enough room and heart to make you overlook the script’s shortcomings. And despite the runtime bloat in The Golden Circle, the kinetic violence and over-the-top parody keeps the action moving.

But for a pastiche that has no reservations transcending its source material when it comes to sending up action and plotting, it’s impossible to ignore how the same can’t be said for the movie’s treatment of women.

This is, after all, a film where dogs play a more emotional role in the narrative arc than most of the female leads, and a running bit about reluctant anal sex is no longer the grossest punchline in the franchise. So congrats on that distinction, I guess.

But that’s not cheeky. It’s just dull. And it’s unforgivable in any film—but especially in one that so desperately wants to be seen as clever.





Beltway Badass

Miss Sloane

by Hope Madden

I’m curious. Is every film going to take on sharper, darker political meaning post-election? Because Miss Sloane definitely does.

First time screenwriter Jonathan Perera’s much-lauded screenplay documents Elizabeth Sloane, DC super-lobbyist. Driven and single-minded to a nearly sociopathic degree, Sloane finally finds a line she’s unwilling to cross when the gun lobby wants to hire her to make guns more appealing to women.

She abandons the big time firm that demands she rethink her gun-control stance and goes to work instead for the liberal opposition.

Though far from flawless, Miss Sloane has a lot to offer. Mainly, Jessica Chastain.

Her fierce performance and comfort with ambiguity come together in a turn that mesmerizes. This is an anti-hero, and Chastain gives her enough savvy, contempt, drive, self-loathing and vulnerability to make her fascinating. Not knowable, but forever provocative.

Though no other character in the film is nearly so fleshed out, a game supporting cast – including the welcome Michael Stuhlbarg and a pitch-perfect Mark Strong – help balance Chastain’s blistering presence.

Director John Madden – whose work tends toward the safer and tamer (Shakespeare in Love, Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) – here amplifies Chastain’s fiery delivery with frenetic camera movement and sudden close ups. He creates a pace that keeps attention, even when the screenplay begins to slog.

What’s exceptional about the film, aside from Chastain, is the way its core plotline and its greater themes work together. The us-versus-them battle, with each lobbyist one-upping the other in the most unconscionable (yet clever) ways, commands attention. But beneath all that Miss Sloane clarifies the way in which the American public is never privy to true information.

What we get, in its stead, is the narrative being pushed in increasingly obfuscated ways by different stakeholders.

The film builds to speechifying and heavy moralizing, often feeling too clever for its own good. It settles, while its titular firebrand would not. But before all the self-righteous Aaron Sorkinisms, Madden, Perera and Chastain get an awful lot right.

They push envelopes when it comes to a female anti-hero, answering only as many questions as necessary and leaving room for Chastain’s performance to fill in some gaps.

Together they also unleash an appropriately cynical view of a political system that is rotten.

Verdict-3-0-Stars

 

 





A Sincere Form of Flattery

The Imitation Game

by George Wolf

Here’s the thing about historical dramas: they’re not documentaries. Factual liberties are going to be taken by filmmakers searching for the right mix of and accuracy and emotional punch. The Imitation Game is one that almost scores a knockout.

It manages to be both an exciting historical mystery and a heartfelt look into the complicated soul at its center.

Benedict Cumberbatch is Oscar-worthy as Alan Turing, the English mathematician and all-around brilliant thinker who played a major role in cracking the Nazi’s “unbreakable” Enigma code during World War II.

Director Morton Tyldum (the underseen 2011 Norwegian gem Headhunters) expertly weaves the breathless quest by Turing and his team of code breakers together with Turing’s personal journey of loneliness and longing. Set designs that appear too tidy for 1940s wartime are negated by Tyldum’s impeccable sense of pacing, as he simultaneously builds the tension in both plot lines while steering clear of excess melodrama.

He’s blessed with an impressive debut screenplay from Graham Moore, adapting Andrew Hodges’ book “Alan Turing:  the Enigma”. This is a film about secrets of all kinds, and Moore’s taut, nuanced script covers all angles in exploring their wages.

Cumberbatch leads the stellar ensemble cast with a wondrous turn. He presents Turing as a complex, unique individual blessed with an exceptional mind and a puzzling personality. Is it a dead-on reflection of the actual Alan Turing? I doubt it, but it is a multi-dimensional performance that any “based on true events” film would be lucky to have driving it.

Keira Knightley shines as Turing’s teammate and eventual fiancé Joan Clarke, subtlety creating a brilliant, outgoing personality where Turing finds comfort. Kudos, too, to Charles Dance and Mark Strong, both able to make lasting impressions with limited screen time as Turing’s superior officers.

As the human drama and the historical heroics both come to weighty conclusions, the film pulls back right when it might have cemented itself as truly unforgettable. Erring on the side of understatement is certainly the safe way home, but still disappointing. After Turing’s repeated pleas to pay attention, shying away from the tough questions raised leaves a film filled with logic feeling a touch too calculated.

 

Verdict-3-5-Stars

 

 

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S5CjKEFb-sM