Tag Archives: Rebecca Ferguson

Waiting for the Worms

Dune

by Hope Madden

Denis Villeneuve’s vision for Frank Herbert’s Dune is as gorgeous and cinematic as you might expect from the filmmaker behind Blade Runner 2049 and Arrival. The worlds, the interiors, the exteriors, the space crafts, the spice, the worm — each articulated with a sense of wonder, as if the director himself was awestruck by what he saw.

That vision is hampered by a number of things, but the cast is not among its faults. Though Part One contains too many glorified cameos, even those are handled with care.

But let’s start at the top. Timothee Chalamet, whose genuine vulnerability makes him the perfect emo savior, is a natural for Paul. There is depth and almost humor to the performance. Even with only the first part of his journey completed by the end of the 2 hour and 35 minute film, his arc is clearly underway.

Oscar Isaac is so wonderfully Oscar Isaac as Paul’s noble but human father, and Rebecca Ferguson is exquisitely tortured as Paul’s mother. Sharon Duncan-Brewster, Josh Brolin, Jason Momoa and especially Javier Bardem all leave impressions with minimal screen time.

But the film has two problems, they are both pretty substantial, and they are both the story.

Problem #1 is that Dune Part 1 is half a film. You can make a multi-part story and still have several lovely, complete, standalone films. Kill Bill did it. Dune did not. It ends at the halfway point and that is exactly how it feels: 2 and a half hours to halfway there.

The second concern is that the source material is a white savior film. By casting almost exclusively people of color as the indigenous Fremen people of the conquered planet Arrakis, Villeneuve was at least facing the issue directly. That same laudable decision also exacerbated the situation, however, by turning Dune from a metaphorical white savior story into a literal white savior film, as the very white Chalamet takes on the mantle of messiah to lead the Fremen toward salvation.

He’s a dreamy messiah whose hair is forever mussed and hanging in his big, brown (for the moment) eyes, sure. But we know where this is going, even if we have no idea when we’ll get to see it arrive as Dune Part 2 is not yet filming.

It’s a lot of very attractive waiting for something to happen, which is maybe the best Dune synopsis I can think of.

What’s Up, Doc?

Doctor Sleep

by Hope Madden and George Wolf

The Shining was always going to be a hard act to follow, even for Stephen King.

But as soon as King revisited the horror with Doctor Sleep, the bigger challenge instantly fell to whomever was tasked with bringing it to the screen.

That would be writer/director Mike Flanagan, who’s trying on two pairs of pretty big shoes. His vision will not only be judged next to one of the most iconic horror films of all time, but also by the source author who famously doesn’t like that film.

While Doctor Sleep does often feel as if Flanagan is trying to serve two (or more) masters, it ultimately finds enough common ground to become an effective, if only mildly frightening return trip.

After surviving the attempted redrum, adult Dan Torrence (Ewan McGregor) is struggling to stay clean and sober. He’s quietly earning his chips, and is even enjoying a long distance “shine” relationship with the teenaged Abra (Kyliegh Curran).

But Abra and her unusually advanced gifts have also attracted the attention of Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson, sweetly menacing) and her cult of undead travelers. Similarly gifted, Rose and her band seek out young shiners, feeding on their powers to remain immortal.

Flanagan breaks the spooky spell to dive into terror in a truly unnerving sequence between Ferguson’s gang and a shiny little baseball player (Jacob Tremblay). Effectively gritty and hard to shake, it is the one moment the film fully embraces its horror lineage.

Reportedly, Flanagan had to convince King that it is Kubrick’s version of The Shining that reigns in popular culture (as it should), and that their new film should reflect that. Smart move, as is the choice to hit you early with lookalike actors in those famous roles from 1980.

Is it jarring seeing new faces as young Danny, Wendy, Dick Halloran and more? Yes it is, but as the film unfolds you see Flanagan had little choice but to go that route, and better to get comfy with it by the time Dan is back among the ghosts of the Overlook hotel.

King has made it clear he needed more emotional connection to his characters than Kubrick’s film provided. McGregor helps bridge that gap, finding a childlike quality beneath the ugly, protective layers that have kept Danny Torrence from dealing with a horrific past.

Flanagan (Oculus, Hush, Before I Wake, Gerald’s Game) stumbles most when he relies on awkward (and in some cases, needless) exposition to clarify and articulate answers. Kubrick was stingy in that regard, which was one of The Shining‘s great strengths. Questions are scary, answers seldom are.

Whatever the film’s setbacks and faults, it is good fun getting back to the Overlook and catching the many Shining callbacks (including a cameo from Danny Lloyd, the original Danny Torrence). Flanagan’s vision does suffer by comparison, but how could it not? Give him credit for ignoring that fact and diving in, leaving no question that he’s as eager to see what’s around each corner as we are.

Doctor Sleep can’t match the claustrophobic nature or the vision of cold, creeping dread Kubrick developed. This film often tries too hard to please—not a phrase you’d associate with the 1980 film. The result is a movie that never seems to truly find its own voice.

It’s no masterpiece, but check in and you’ll find a satisfying, generally spooky time.

Action Figure

Mission: Impossible – Fallout

by George Wolf

Tom Cruise’s next mission – and he’ll most likely accept it – is to try and outdo the stunts he pulls in this latest Mission: Impossible entry. Good luck with that, because Fallout delivers the GD mail.

It’s an action film that hits on nearly every cylinder, thrilling enough to elevate the value of the other five films in the franchise.

Writer/director Christopher McQuarrie (a frequent Cruise collaborator) returns from 2015’s MI: Rogue Nation, leaning on that solid foundation while he ups every ante, delivering not only his most impressive work as a director, but his most complete screenplay since The Usual Suspects.

Cruise’s Ethan Hunt draws the ire of his IMF boss (Alec Baldwin) and his boss’s boss (Angela Bassett) by choosing the lives of his team (Ving Rhames, Simon Pegg) over a stash of rogue plutonium. To keep that payload from the highest bidder, they have no choice but to accept help from agent August Walker (Henry Cavill and the ‘stache that ate DC), a “kill now-ask questions later” bruiser.

It can’t go unnoticed that Fallout marks the third blockbuster this year to feature a villain whose goals are more societal than financial.

Coincidence? Clearly no, but McQuarrie’s script keeps the social commentary smart, subtle and out of the way.

Familiar allies (Rebecca Ferguson’s Ilsa), old foes (Sean Harris as Solomon Lane) and new femme fatale “White Widow” (Vanessa Kirby) dot the landscape of double and triple crosses, with McQuarrie being careful not to overplay the genre elements.

Sly, self-aware references ground the film when it’s in danger of reveling in any Bond-ish excess, with plenty of well-placed surprises that, even when they’re not that surprising,  help ease the bloat of a 2 and 1/2 hour running time.

But let’s not kid ourselves, that’s all just spy game gravy.

These stunts – from rooftop to mountaintop, crowded streets to midair and beyond – are showstoppers, with Cruise so electric a t-shirt proclaiming “movie star” would not be out of place under Hunt’s endless supply of tight black jackets.

Cruise’s insistence on doing these stunts himself got him a broken ankle, but there is plenty of gain for his pain. You cannot deny the added authenticity his stuntwork brings to these set pieces, with McQuarrie’s nimble camerawork and some luscious landscapes sealing the deal.

Say what you what about the summer movie season so far, Fallout is here to make you remember how breathlessly fun it can be.





Bring a Shovel

The Snowman

by Hope Madden

The Snowman, a Norway-set serial killer thriller, runs like a 3-hour flick that someone gutted for time without regard to sensibility, leaving a disemboweled and incoherent pile in the snow for audiences to puzzle over.

Not what I had expected.

I love director Tomas Alfredson. Well, I love his 2008 gem Let the Right One In and so, by extension, I love him. His writing team, adapting Jo Nesbø’s novel, includes the scribes behind such bits of brilliance as Drive (Hossein Amini) and Frank (Peter Straughan), and Michael Fassbender is the lead. Rock solid, that’s what that is.

And yet, The Snowman went horribly, embarrassingly, head-scratchingly wrong.

Fassbender plays Detective Harry Hole. (I swear to God, that’s his name.) He’s a blackout drunk in need of a case to straighten him out. He finds it in one misogynistic mess of a serial killer plot.

All he and his new partner Katrine (Rebecca Ferguson) know is that the killer leaves snowmen at the crime scene and has complicated issues with women. What follows is convoluted, needlessly complicated with erratic and unexplained behavior, ludicrous red herrings and a completely unexplained plot point about prescription pills.

The Snowman is not the first in Nesbø’s Harry Hole series, so a lot of “catch us up on this guy” exposition gets wedged in. From there, the writing team took a buzzsaw to Nesbø’s prose, leaving none of the connective tissue necessary to pull the many, varied and needlessly lurid details together into a sensible mystery plot.

It all leads ploddingly, frustratingly to an unearned climax heavy with needless flashbacks and convenient turns.

Everybody smokes, so it almost works as a cigarette ad, but as an actual story? No.

Fassbender, an inarguable talent, offers little to a clichéd character whose tics are predetermined—a shame because this is an actor who can dig deep when it comes to character tics. Ferguson and Charlotte Gainsbourg, as Hole’s ex, fare even worse. And an entire slew of heavy hitters gets wasted completely, including J.K. Simmons, Toby Jones and a weirdly dubbed Val Kilmer.

Alfredson films snowcapped carnage with a grotesque beauty few directors can touch, but that’s hardly reason enough to sit through this muddled mess.





Train in Vain

The Girl on the Train

by Hope Madden

Not every book makes for a good movie – not even those page turners that seem cinematic as you read them.

Paula Hawkins’s insanely popular novel The Girl on the Train, for instance, had the feel of a pulpy film noir from the get go. Unfortunately, director Tate Taylor (The Help, Get On Up) can’t deliver on that promise.

Emily Blunt does, though. As the titular traveler – a vodka-addled protagonist of the most unreliable sort – her performance is as frustrating, sympathetic and confused as it needs to be to sell the sordid tale.

Rachel (Blunt) lives vicariously through the couple she passes twice daily on her commute. So fortunate they’re always home – on the porch, in the yard, or conveniently screwing just inside the window. How lovely they are. How vibrant.

Of course, some of this could be the overactive imagination of a very lonely woman who’s really diverting her own attention away from the house two doors down. The one that used to be hers, with the husband that used to be hers, along with his new wife and baby.

Yes, her imagination gets her into lots of trouble. That and her blackouts.

Taylor, with the help of screenwriter Erin Cressida Wilson, takes a stab at shifting the points of view of the three female leads – Rachel, her ex’s new wife Anna (Rebecca Ferguson), and that dreamy neighbor Megan (Haley Bennett, who is everywhere right now).

Only Blunt manages to keep your attention, though. Bennett and Ferguson are saddled with one-dimensional props for characters: misty eyed sexpot and brittle housewife, respectively. What should be an intriguing mystery soaked in the criss-crossing perspectives of three damaged women becomes a character study kept in motion by lifeless cogs.

Not that their male counterpoints fare any better. Taylor wastes Luke Evans and Edgar Ramirez with broadly drawn stereotypes, though Justin Theroux gets to chew a little scenery.

It’s impossible to watch this film without longing for David Fincher (Gone Girl, Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), whose proven that dark chick lit can create undeniably watchable cinema. Like Rachel’s own window on the world, Taylor’s film is little more than a bleary mess.

Verdict-2-0-Stars





Cruising Altitude

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation

by Hope Madden

Tom Cruise may have finally found a marriage that will work. His partnership with writer/director Christopher McQuarrie has produced four of the actor’s most recent films.

McQuarrie wrote Valkyrie and Edge of Tomorrow (arguably Cruise’s finest film this century), and he wrote and directed both Jack Reacher and Cruise’s latest action extravaganza, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation.

McQuarrie inherited the series at its peak, Brad Bird’s Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol having brought the franchise back to relevance with talented new teammates, extravagant set pieces, and much-needed humor.

Rogue Nation picks up that same beat. The band’s back together: Cruise’s super-agent Ethan Hunt, skeptical wise cracker Brandt (Jeremy Renner), systems wizard Luther (Ving Rhames), and delightful hacker Benji (Simon Pegg).

Blessedly, the talentless Paula Patton sits this one out.

In her place as the beautiful woman who will appear in only one episode is Rebecca Ferguson as the mysterious double (or triple?) agent Ilsa Faust.

Now disgraced and disavowed by their own government, what’s left of IMF must expose their underworld counterpart The Syndicate to reclaim their status and save the world.

McQuarrie keeps the pace moving with a gliding camera that not only captures the enormity of each sequence, but develops a graceful, controlled urgency about each event.

Truth be told, though, the movie succeeds or fails depending on Cruise, and Ethan Hunt is a great character for the beleaguered movie star. Cruise can show off his still quite impressive physical presence, the script’s use of humor capitalizes on the actor’s underused strengths, and let’s be honest – Cruise has a bit of the crazy-eye, which makes him more believable in the part.

The action sequences are not quite as breathtaking as they were in Ghost Protocol, but they are impressive nonetheless.

What McQuarrie does better than any previous director in the series is to imbue every scene with a bit of humor – enough to exploit the ridiculousness of the situation without actually mocking it. He finds the fun in the familiar old gimmicks and draws on the strengths of his cast to create a blast of entertainment.

Verdict-3-5-Stars