Final Portrait

April 24, 2018 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Armie Hammer, Geoffrey Rush, Clémence Poésy
Directed by: Stanley Tucci (“Big Night”)
Written by: Stanley Tucci (“Big Night”)

While it’s usually never great to see “how the sausage is made” in most industries, there’s always been something intriguing — at least from a cinematic perspective — about peeking into the life of an artist and witnessing the inspiration, imagination and sometimes ugliness that permeates the creative process.

From the obsessed filmmaker Guido Anselmi (Marcello Mastroianni) in Federico Fellini’s 1963 surreal Italian classic “8½” to last year’s neurotic dressmaker Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) in Paul Thomas Anderson’s romantic, stylish and strange drama “Phantom Thread,” watching masters at work (or in pain from their inability to create) makes for some fascinating substance for character analysis.

It’s especially true when documentarians are able to identify a compelling subject whose passion for their craft knows no limits and details something as specialized as video-game design (“Indie Game: The Movie”) or method acting (“Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond”) or even preparing sushi (“Jiro Dreams of Sushi”). The subgenre is one that extends across countless disciplines – none as tempestuous as visual art.

Although the tortured artist is a cliché that is often overemphasized, a number of biopics and docs such as “Basquiat,” “Pollack,” “Ai Wei Wei: Never Sorry” and “Gerhard Richter Painting,” have proven that each of these artists’ insight is worthy of a deep dive into learning what makes them tick. The same can’t be said, unfortunately, about “Final Portrait,” a shallow, British-American drama that offers no real substance behind the paper-thin narrative and characters presented by Oscar-nominated actor-turned-filmmaker Stanley Tucci (“The Lovely Bones”).

In his first foray into the director’s chair in more than a decade, Tucci explores the connection between Swiss painter and sculptor Alberto Giacometti (Geoffrey Rush) and American writer James Lord (Armie Hammer), who poses as a model inside Alberto’s Paris studio in 1964. “You’re my husband’s next victim,” Alberto’s wife Annette (Sylvie Testud) tells James on the first day he steps into the studio for what is supposed to be a three-hour sitting.

A few hours, however, drag on for nearly three weeks as Alberto, surrounded by dusty sculptures and picturesque albeit dreary production design, transforms into a self-doubting, hopeless curmudgeon who curses at his canvas as much as he actually puts paint on it and delivers empty dialogue like “It’s gone too far; same time, not far enough” when he makes a potential breakthrough. James is also introduced to Caroline (Clémence Poésy), a pretty prostitute Alberto considers his muse and “nighttime companion.”

Alberto is a frustrating character, which was probably Tucci’s desire from the get-go, but the repetition in his process, or lack thereof, which spins in a loop from self-deprecating to compulsive to selfish, also twists him into a fairly unlikeable human being. Rush plays it with compassion much like he did in his Oscar-winning role in 1996’s “Shine,” but it’s a move that would only be helpful to the story if Hammer’s portrayal of James balanced it in a way audiences could feel a real relationship was present or at least forming.

Sadly, Hammer is a blank slate — a wet napkin dressed in a blue blazer and tie, sitting on a rickety wicker chair watching Alberto dip his brush into gray paint. He’s an emotionally absent pushover, and none of it is very revealing or in the interest of either gentleman. In fact, around day 12, James, through some ineffective voiceover narration, says the time he has spent with Alberto has put a “psychological strain” on him. However, Tucci, who adapted the script from Lord’s memoir “A Giacometti Portrait,” never gives an indication that James is stressed about the situation he has found himself in. Instead of just telling audiences that the prolonged art project is driving him nuts, it would have been beneficial to see something expressed on James’ perfect face. In “Final Portrait,” Hammer adequately plays what is ultimately the equivalent of a bowl of fruit.

Aside from a couple of short, thought-provoking discussions between James and Alberto about suicide and artists stealing ideas from each other, not much is memorable during their studio time. What we’re left with is Alberto scowling at his work, threatening to abandon the portrait, smoking, yelling “fuck” a lot, burying his head in his hands in complete anguish and going for occasional walks.

At one point, Alberto declares that “portraits have no meaning,” to which James questions with, “So, what we’re doing is meaningless?” As a moviegoer watching “Final Portrait,” the theory also rings true.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

May 26, 2017 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Javier Bardem
Directed by: Joachim Ronning (“Kon-Tiki”) and Espen Sandberg (“Kon-Tiki”)
Written by: Jeff Nathanson (“Catch Me If You Can”)

Disney’s “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales” is unlikely to turn any newcomers into enthusiastic fans of the franchise, but if you’re planning on making the fifth entry in this 14-year-old franchise your starting point, then please do yourself a favor and watch “The Curse of the Black Pearl” before heading to the theater this Memorial Day weekend. Gore Verbinski’s 2003 film remains one of the all-time great adventure films, deftly mixing sharp-witted humor, unsettling creepiness, and exhilarating action. The series has been chasing that magic to varied results ever since, but directors Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg have created an installment that continues to steer the franchise away from the overlong, convoluted mess that was “At World’s End.”

Since its inception, one of the recurring motifs of the Pirates franchise (not to mention countless other series) has been fathers and sons. That notion rears its head again in “Dead Men Tell No Tales,” where a fresh-faced Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites) is searching for the trident of Poseidon, which can help free his father from his eternal servitude as captain aboard the Flying Dutchman. The way that search unfolds is, in trademark “Pirates” fashion, complicated and devoid of logical motivations, but somehow Ronning and Sandberg fashion a slick and entertaining summer movie.

With a running time of 129 minutes, “Dead Men Tell No Tales” is the shortest entry in the franchise, and the absence of Verbinski’s bombastic approach occasionally makes the film feel small in its scope. To its credit, the film never stalls or drags its feet. In fact, the script from Jeff Nathanson and Terry Rossio spends a lot of time setting up story and fleshing out characters. It’s not Tennessee Williams levels of character depth, but it creates a level of investment.

That level of investment is heightened by the familiar faces of Captain Jack, Barbossa, and Gibbs. If you’re a fan of the franchise, you’ll be pleased with great character moments and interactions. Johnny’s Depp’s Jack Sparrow seems a bit dialed down and sometimes even more Mad Hatter than Jack. This is probably due to the fact that the script requires him to be a bit of a bumbling idiot and not the “greatest pirate ever” we know from previous installments. That being said, the moment between him and Paul McCartney’s Uncle Jack is even better than you could have imagined.

The addition of Thwaites Kaya Scodelario, theoretically the future of the franchise, isn’t as devoid of chemistry as the tepid romance we were given in “On Stranger Tides.” The two make a fun bickering couple. Scodelario plays an astrologer who sports both brains and brawn. I’d be interested to see how they flesh her character out in future installments. Golshifteh Farahani steals the movie as a creepy witch, but her character exits the film far too soon, as does David Wenham’s Scarfield. Finally, Javier Bardem’s Salazar makes for a truly memorable and terrifying villain, injecting the dark and violent edge that had been missing from the franchise.

Characters in a “Pirates” movie are nothing without the action scenes they are thrown into, and “Dead Men Tell No Tales” has some really great set pieces. There’s a “heist gone wrong” scene early in the film that reintroduces Captain Jack in a humorous way, an exciting “guillotine execution gone wrong” scene featuring multiple levels of competently filmed and slickly edited chaos, and a chase scene in the film featuring undead sharks is unarguably a franchise highlight.

This is the second time that the “Pirates” franchise has advertised its latest movie as the final adventure. Given the way the story unfolds in “Dead Men Tell no Tales,” particularly an enticing post-credits tease, it’s clear that Disney fully intends to keep their swashbuckling franchise going as long as it keeps selling tickets. It’s a mixed bag, but an entertaining one nonetheless. If you’re a fan of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise, you’ll find lots to love here. In a market saturated with superhero franchises (entertaining as they may be), why should we complain about more adventures with Captain Jack Sparrow?

The Book Thief

November 29, 2013 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Sophie Nelisse, Geoffrey Rush, Emily Watson
Directed by: Brian Percival (“A Boy Called Death”)
Written by: Michael Petroni (“The Rite”)

In an adaptation of the immensely popular novel “The Book Thief” tells the story of Liesel (Sophia Nelisse), a young girl living in Nazi Germany. When Liesel is separated from her birth mother, she moves in with her new foster parents, Hans (Geoffrey Rush) and Rosa (Emily Watson). Liesel is illiterate, and becomes fascinated with reading after finding a book in an unexpected place. As World War II breaks out, Hans and Rosa bring in Jewish family friend Max (Ben Schnetzer) to hide from German soldiers. Soon, Liesel begins to form a special bond with Max.

One of the strengths of “The Book Thief” is its performances. As a relative newcomer, Nelisse is strong and holds her own against more experienced actors. Best among the cast is Rush, who is a great presence as a father to Liesel and quite funny in the films lighter moments. As the counterpart of the laid back Rush, Watson’s uptight character plays nicely as the more complicated of the parents.

“The Book Thief” is somewhat delicate in its handling of the Holocaust. Rather than making the film about the Holocaust itself, it is merely a story that takes place within that context. Because of that construction, a lot of the impact of the atrocities is lost or absent altogether. We see Nazi flags, book burnings and the occasional rounding up of the Jewish people through a muted and pale color palate, but there is no sense of how truly terrible the conditions were. It makes sense given the target audience, yet interestingly enough, the film deals with some darker themes and plot points while at the same time feeling tame with its contextual elements. At the center of “The Book Thief” are relationships between its characters which vary in success. The relationship between Liesel and Max is supposed to be one of the more important ones in the film, but feels underdeveloped and a touch forced.

Perhaps most troubling about “The Book Thief” is that it is a movie that lacks a true climax. The film builds and then, without much warning, deflates in a series of false endings and jam-packed, overly-dramatic beats that have no room to breathe as the film stumbles to a finish. There is no grace to these moments, as director Brian Percival (“A Boy Called Death”) seems to just regurgitate an ending to get the film over as soon as possible. The decision leaves the whole thing feeling piecemeal and unsatisfying.

While there is strength in the acting, “The Book Thief”, unfortunately, fails to connect on many of its major themes, chiefly those of the importance of books to Liesel. That makes it difficult to connect to the film as an entire piece. Coupled with an ending that feels haphazardly pasted together, “The Book Thief” can’t help but feel incomplete.

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

May 20, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz, Geoffrey Rush
Directed by: Rob Marshall (“Chicago”)
Written by: Ted Elliott (“Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End”) and Terry Rossio (“Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End”)

On the high seas again for the fourth installment of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” action-adventure franchise, this one penned as “On Stranger Tides,” three-time Academy Award nominee Johnny Depp returns as the slurry and always-peculiar pirate Captain Jack Sparrow, a character he first brought to the big screen in 2003’s “The Curse of the Black Pearl.”

Eight years and two inexplicable sequels later, Capt. Jack is still up to his mischievous ways — drinking rum, wielding his sword, and looking for booty — this time in all its 3D glory. With a fantasy series like Pirates as bankable as ever, it’s safe to say Disney may still have a few installments to go, despite the fact that “Tides” is basically a quest we’ve all been on before.

This time, Capt. Jack finds himself on the Queen Anne’s Revenge, a menacing-looking ship belonging to the much-feared pirate of all pirates Blackbeard (Ian McShane). Swabbing the decks with the rest of the crew, Capt. Jack has set sail to find the Fountain of Youth, a mythical spring needed by Blackbeard to save his life should an ominous prophecy come true. On the ship with Capt. Jack is Blackbeard’s daughter Angelica (Penélope Cruz, bringing the sex appeal provided in the first three films by Keira Knightley), who seems to have some kind of romantic past with our buccaneer hero.

Former Pirates Director Gore Verbinski is replaced here by Academy Award-winner Rob Marshall (“Chicago”), a filmmaker with the grandiose mindset to pull off a blockbuster like this, but who instead plays it cautiously by following his predecessor’s by-the-numbers approach. Even with Marshall’s enthusiasm for musicals, don’t expect a song and a dance from any of the mateys here. Capt. Jack is flamboyant enough without help from Gilbert & Sullivan.

Back for another round of swashbuckling is Academy Award-winner Geoffrey Rush (“Shine”) as the vile and peg-legged Barbossa, who proves more of an ally to Capt. Jack on this journey. Like Depp’s captain, Rush has embraced his character so thoroughly that without him or Depp there would be no point to continue the charade.

Whatever the case may be, the narrative of this series needs a major wake-up-call if it doesn’t want to lull audiences to sleep with the same old fantasy plotting and repetitious action sequences. Pay no mind to the four or five swordfights we get in “Tides” – the best scene comes during a mermaid battle that is heavy on CGI and imagination. Take all the scenes where the boys are banging blades and mix them in a barrel and you’d be hard-pressed to tell which one goes to which “Pirates” movie.

Besides its overall unoriginality, “Tides” just doesn’t have the same magic “Black Pearl” had back when Capt. Jack was something special and not just another option for a Halloween costume. Producer Jerry Bruckheimer’s had enough time to fiddle with the equation and turn it into a spectacle. For failing that, he deserves to be tossed overboard.

The King’s Speech

December 23, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Colin Firth, Helena Bonham Carter, Geoffrey Rush
Directed by: Tom Hooper (“The Damned United”)
Written by:  David Seidler (“Quest for Camelot”)

While it’s natural for almost anyone to get a bit nervous when speaking in public, stumbling over a few words while giving a keynote address or losing your train of thought during a toast wouldn’t signify the end of the world. If you were the King of England in 1939, however, disappointing an entire nation at the brink of war was a definite possibility. No pressure, right?

Directed by Tom Hooper (“The Damned United”) from a script by 73-year-old screenwriter David Seidler (a former stutterer himself), “The King’s Speech” tells the little-known true story of King George VI (Colin Firth), known as “Bertie” by his family and friends, and his battle with a debilitating speech impediment that causes him to panic and freeze up every time he stands in front of a microphone.

The film opens in 1925 when our tongue-tied protagonist is about to deliver a major speech as the Duke of York during the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley. The scene becomes more and more devastating as a terrified Bertie – with speech in hand – opens his mouth and is unable to string two words together without his stammer reverberating through the stadium speakers. Painful as it is to witness, Bertie’s weakness is clearly evident through these awkward moments of silence.

Unable to overcome his stutter despite ongoing vocal treatments (one of his doctors encourages him to smoke because it “calms the nerves and gives you confidence”), Bertie’s supportive wife Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter) sets up a meeting with Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), an Aussie-born speech therapist and amateur actor whose unorthodox techniques don’t initially impress the duke.

But with Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin looming in the east, the monarchy needs someone confident enough to speak to the masses. Although Bertie is not meant to be the next king, the responsibility is transferred to him when his older brother David (Guy Pearce ), who holds the title of King Edward VIII for less than a year, shocks the House of Windsor when he renounces the throne so he can marry a twice-divorced American socialite.

With all of Britain watching, “The King’s Speech” builds toward King George VI’s first wartime radio broadcast to the nation. As the ineloquent king, Firth is simply mesmerizing, as is the rest of the talented cast who bring to life this fascinating footnote in British history. Charming, humorous, and engaging throughout, “The King’s Speech” is easily one of the best films of the year.