October 4, 2018 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Keira Knightley, Dominic West, Denise Gough
Directed by: Wash Westmoreland (“Still Alice”)
Written by: Wash Westmoreland (“Still Alice”) and Richard Glatzer (“Still Alice”)

While mainstream audiences might associate two-time Academy Award nominee Keira Knightley (“The Imitation Game”) with her role in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise, just as many moviegoers probably consider her more recognizable from the handful of costume dramas she’s starred in during her career.

From the emotionally resonant 2005 adaptation of “Pride and Prejudice” to the under-appreciated uniqueness of 2012’s “Anna Karenina,” Knightley is synonymous with characters who don modest muslin gowns and colorful Victorian-era silk dresses. It’s unfortunate, then, that her latest foray into the late 19th century isn’t as effective as her prior period pieces.

In “Colette,” Knightley stars as Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette, one of the most important voices in women’s literature ever to come out of France (notable works include Chéri and Gigi). The film introduces audiences to Colette as a young country girl who is whisked away to Paris by Willy (Dominic West), a charming and well-liked writer and struggling publishing house owner.

Living above their means in Paris, Willy, who manages a team of ghostwriters who churn out literature to sell to Belle Époque socialites, persuades Colette to write a coming-of-age novel about her teenage years and allow him to publish it under his name. When the book, Claudine at School, becomes a hit, Willy demands she continue writing (there are four novels in the Claudine series). This all occurs while her relationship with Willy deteriorates because of his refusal to credit her as the real author and the problems caused by their open marriage — which Colette uses as inspiration for her writing.

Directed and co-written by Wash Westmoreland (“Still Alice”), “Colette” is hitting theaters during a moment in our cultural history when many women, much like the film’s title character, are standing up for themselves against the oppression of toxic men. It’s a timely biopic on female empowerment — one that rests solely on the shoulders of Knightley and her insightful depiction of strength and desire for independence.

Where the film falters, however, is in Westmoreland’s script, which should have offered more narrative support from its secondary characters. Instead, “Colette” remains a loner as she confronts the unsustainable life she’s built with Willy and the romance she later establishes with Missy (Denise Gough), an androgynous partner who understands the frustration Colette feels from having to stay silent and unseen for so long — like a ghost floating around in literary limbo.

Although it’s a central message, Westmoreland gets a bit heavy-handed with his metaphors. In one scene, Colette is transfixed on a male mime singing soprano before the camera pulls back to reveal that he is lip-syncing a song actually being sung by a woman standing behind him. If we didn’t know any better, we might think “Colette” was trying to say something.

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

January 17, 2014 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Chris Pine, Keira Knightley, Kevin Costner
Directed by: Kenneth Branagh (“Thor”)
Written by: David Koepp (“Premium Rush”) and Adam Cozad (debut)

Though remakes, reboots and franchises have been the latest trend in Hollywood, few have had the longevity and staying power of Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan series. Dating back nearly 25 years and including actors such as Sean Connery, Alec Baldwin, Ben Affleck and Harrison Ford, this series has brought about a consistent stream of films. In an original story not based on a novel, “Star Trek” actor Chris Pine is the latest to take on the role of the Marine-turned-CIA agent in “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit.”

As an injured Marine, Jack Ryan (Chris Pine) is convinced by CIA agent William Harper (Kevin Costner) to become an undercover analyst in the CIA embedded in the financial world. As the Russians threaten to take down the U.S. stock market at the hands of Russian Viktor Cherevin (Kenneth Branagh), Ryan must transform from analyst to operational to try to save the United States from danger.

From the first moments of the 9/11 attacks being shown as the impetus for Ryan’s enlistment of into the military, the audience is clued into “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” being a fresh reboot of a long standing franchise. For a fresh start, Pine is an inspired choice to take on Ryan. Relaying the tremendous amount of charisma and personality in the “Star Trek” films, Pine is a perfect candidate to take on any role, despite the committed relationship nature of Ryan being a little less fun than his womanizing role as Kirk. While Costner and Keira Knightley provide fine, if not ho-hum presences, this is Pine’s film to carry and he does so with an ability that could prove profitable for future films.

Ryan is an interesting action hero. He is seen in the film, very briefly, as a Marine, but quickly loses his strength and ability to even walk from an injury he sustains in Afghanistan. As an analyst forced into operational duty, Ryan’s training comes into prominence as he is forced to do actions outside of his pay grade. The result is a showing of pretty standard hand-to-hand combat and action scenes. Where the film succeeds is in its build up of tension during scenes where Ryan must infiltrate the Russian compound and fight to save his love. There are two major sequences that are successful in building up said tension, yet they never feel like scenes that are worthy enough to create a climax for the film.

“Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” has its moments of intensity and intrigue that is strong enough to capture one’s attention during the course of the film. But with a finished and final product that feels a little incomplete overall, it is likely a film that is easily forgettable in the long run.

Anna Karenina

November 30, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Keira Knightley, Jude Law, Aaron Taylor-Johnson
Directed by: Joe Wright (“Atonement”)
Written by: Tom Stoppard (“Shakespeare in Love”)

Give filmmaker Joe Wright (“Atonement”) some credit for being so bold with his decision to make his new retelling of Leo Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina” something audiences have never experienced with this specific story. Not only does he direct it as if were a stage performance, Wright breaks down the wall between the production and his viewers and allows them to see all the backstage tasks it takes to put such a stylish and ornate project together. In doing so, we see sets and backdrops pieced together as actors take their marks, musicians walking through the film providing music for the picture and even a horse race taking place right on stage with real and painted patrons. It all makes for an eye-catching spectacle that breaks the traditional set-up of the cinematic costumed drama.

Besides the wonderfully choreographed scenes led by Wright and the beautiful art direction, the stand outs in “Anna Karenina” are the performances by Keira Knightley as the self-pitying title character and her distressed husband Minister Karenin played by Jude Law. Marital problems are a dime a dozen in these films, but the emotional anguish these two inflict on one another is noteworthy, especially with a piercing screenplay adapted from Tolstoy’s work by screenwriter Tom Stoppard (“Shakespeare in Love”). When Karenin tells Anna, “You are depraved; a woman without honor. I thank God the curse of love is lifted from me,” you can truly feel what betrayal meant in 19th century Russia – at least for them.

Despite a miscasting of a slightly absurd-looking Aaron Taylor-Johnson (“Albert Nobbs”) as Anna’s lover Vronsky and a ham-fisted scene between actors Alicia Vikander (look out for her in Norway’s “A Royal Affair”) and Domhnall Gleeson (“True Grit”) with alphabet blocks, “Anna Karenina” is a nice change of pace to this classic tale. Tolstoy would be proud.

A Dangerous Method

January 28, 2012 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Michael Fassbender, Keira Knightley, Viggo Mortensen
Directed by: David Cronenberg (“Eastern Promises”)
Written by: Christopher Hampton (“Atonement”)

For all of Freud’s innumerable contributions to the field of psychology, his work has also carried the unfortunate side effect of propagating a number of misguided, outdated, and resilient stereotypes about the profession. The seemingly far-out idea of the Oedipus complex, for example, is so deeply associated as a psychological concept that some people outside of the field might not even realize that a good chunk of Freud’s work is no longer (and in some cases was never) largely supported. Still, his contributions to the field were vital and every psychology student learns a lot about the man’s professional career. However, his personal life is something that is barely looked at, even by students. His relationship with fellow psychologist Carl Jung is the center of “A Dangerous Method.” Directed by David Cronenberg, the film is a look into the admiration and eventual tension between these two titans of the psychological field.

While confronting and experimenting with the treatment of the disturbed Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley), psychiatrist Carl Jung gets to interact and work along with his mentor and idol Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen). As Spielreins and Knightley’s relationship extends beyond doctor/patient and Freud and Jung’s ideas begin to separate, tension rises between the three.

The element of “A Dangerous Method” that is likely to be discussed the most is the bizarre performance by Knightley. In the first half of the film, she overacts tremendously, twitching and protruding her bottom jaw causing an underbite and speaking through a poor Russian accent (when she could speak without stammering). Though the transition she makes back to sanity is a little too sudden, it is welcome, and her performance is much easier to handle when she has calmed down a bit. Capping off an outstanding year, Fassbender once again puts in a fantastic performance as Jung. It isn’t a flashy role, but he anchors the film and embodies the character very well. It truly is a travesty that Fassbender was not recognized with an Oscar nomination for any of the work he did this past year. Mortensen, albeit in a smaller role, also delivers as Freud, smoking the signature cigar in nearly every scene and playing off of Fassbender with great chemistry.

“A Dangerous Method” is at its best when it delves into the intricacies of its psychological concepts. The discussion of psychological theories and beliefs between both Jung and Freud and Jung and Sabina are interesting to listen to and the scenes where Jung performs psychotherapy with Sabina and begin to get to the roots of her problems are fascinating. The film also accurately portrays the still relevant controversial stances from Freud such as his insistence on sexual drive being vital to human psychology. Unfortunately, when the movie takes this concept and turns the film into a sexual drama, it begins to lose its luster.

Since most of the information about Freud and Jung is largely academic and found mostly in psychology textbooks, “A Dangerous Method” succeeding in providing audiences with a rarely heard of human side to both of these men. Though the second half of the film is a little less successful than the first (not to mention the fits of exaggerated acting from Knightley), “A Dangerous Method” is worth seeing for Mortenson, and especially Fassbender’s performances alone.

Never Let Me Go

October 8, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley, Andrew Garfield
Directed by: Mark Romanek (“One Hour Photo”)
Written by: Alex Garland (“Sunshine”)

With such an original concept, it’s unfortunate when “Never Let Me Go” simply trails off without much emotional impact. The artful cinematography is remarkable by Adam Kimmel (“Capote,” “Lars and the Real Girl”), but the adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel of the same name leaves a lot to be desired in the dreary dystopian world it has created.

Part coming-of-age British drama, part science fiction love story, “Never Let Me Go” is a melancholic narrative that follows three life-long friends – Ruth (Keira Knightley), Kathy (Carey Mulligan), and Tommy (Andrew Garfield) – as they grow up together in Hailsham, an boarding school where special rules to ensure their health and safety are enforced so their sole purpose in life can be fulfilled.

Without giving too much of the plot away, the film explains that scientific breakthroughs have increased human life expectancy to over the age of 100. Children raised at Hailsham are one of the reasons people are able to live longer than ever.

During their stay at the boarding school, Ruth and Tommy begin an innocent relationship. Kathy watches them casually as she conceals her own feeling for Tommy, which last throughout their childhood and into their teenage years. After graduating from Hailsham, the trio is sent off to live in an area known as the Cottages where they are given a bit more freedom than before, but are still well aware of thier ill-fated future.

Directed by music video veteran Mark Romanek, who’s only other film credit is 2002’s creepy drama “One Hour Photo,” “Never Let Me Go” is a delicate and surreal story that doesn’t provide enough answers in a script that seems to ignore its most obvious flaws.

As the melodrama rises, it becomes more evident that screenwriter Alex Garland (“Sunshine”) has backed himself into a corner. No matter how faithful he stays to Ishiguro’s source material, the film’s lack of balance between genres is irresolvable. It’s undoubtedly one of the more profound movie premises of the year, but never gets paid the attention to detail it deserves aside from its technical accomplishments.

The Duchess

October 17, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Keira Knightley, Ralph Fiennes, Dominic Cooper
Directed by: Saul Dibb (“Bullet Boy”)
Written by: Saul Dibb (“Bullet Boy”), Jeffrey Hatcher (“Casanova”), Anders Thomas Jensen (“After the Wedding”)

Let’s not kid ourselves. We’ve seen this period piece before and not just because of the exquisite costumes and ballroom dances. It might be hard to differentiate between period pieces these days, but with “The Duchess” there is enough enthusiasm from Keira Knightley and Ralph Fiennes to make it worth another trip back in time to the 18th century.

Set in 1774 England, Georgina (Knightley) has just been called upon by the Duke of Devonshire (Fiennes) to become his new bride. Unlike Knightley’s reaction as Elizabeth Bennett in the most recent “Pride and Prejudice” remake, Georgina is thrilled with the idea of being matched to someone she has never met to secure her and her family’s well-being. Early scenes show Georgina flirting with Charles Grey (Dominic Cooper), a young man who is the token love interest most period pieces will flock back to when their leading lady is fed up with her exalted husband. It happens again here in “Duchess,” (as do a few other plot points in films like “The Other Boleyn Girl”) but not before some interesting forks in the seemingly straightforward road.

Failing to give birth to a male heir, the Duchess, who ignores her husband’s extramarital affairs, gives her trust and friendship to a woman she meets at a party named Elizabeth Foster (Hayley Atwell). Georgina even gets the Duke to allow her to move into the estate when Elizabeth falls on hard times. It doesn’t take long for their new tenant to use her friendship with Georgina to begin a relationship with the Duke. The bizarre love triangle is taken up a notch when, instead of ridding himself of Georgina, the Duke decides that he wants to live with both women and continue their lives as he sees fit. The tension is at its highest during scenes when all three are at the breakfast table masking their displeasure and anger.

Of course, Georgina finds her way back to the now-political Charles Grey, who has never forgot about her. They’re relationship gets melodramatic and predictable, but roles like this are so second nature for Knightley, she does them in such a fascinating way it’s hard to imagine anyone else (even her lookalike Natalie Portman) playing the same part.

Where “The Duchess” fails is not building on Georgina’s character outside the walls of her castle. Although the scenes are few and far between, the Duchess was known for her taste in fashion, and political interest, but there’s really no mention of them despite Knightley’s take on her outgoing personality when she is away from the confines of her own home. We may not really see how Georgina affects the people of Devonshire on a cultural level, but as an emotionally wrecked figure Knightley captures her essence wonderfully.