A Private War

November 30, 2018 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Rosamund Pike, Jamie Dornan, Tom Hollander
Directed by: Matthew Heineman (“Cartel Land”)
Written by: Arash Amel (“Grace of Monaco”)

In most instances, the horrors of war are depicted in film form from a male military standpoint. Recently, feature narratives including Oscar-nominees like “Dunkirk,” “Hacksaw Ridge” and “American Sniper” have placed audiences in the trenches of war — wars that span the globe and encompass an extensive timeline.

A lot can be understood, too, when a war story is taken from the perspective of someone whose job isn’t to actually fight, but, instead, to observe and report. These men and women are appropriately hailed as heroes in their own right — journalists who risk their lives to seek the truth and convey to the world what they have witnessed.

No one is quite as deserving of that distinction than late war correspondent Marie Colvin, who in 1986 began her career writing from the frontlines of every major conflict in the Middle East. In “A Private War,” first-time feature filmmaker and Oscar-nominated documentarian Matthew Heineman (“Cartel Land”) and screenwriter Arash Amel (“Grace of Monaco”) capture the grit, fearlessness and obsession for her work that shaped who Colvin was when she was embedded on the battlefield. (Colvin died in Syria in 2012 while covering the country’s civil war).

Portraying Colvin is Oscar-nominated British actress Rosamund Pike (“Gone Girl”), a role that has to be one of the most physically demanding in her last 20 years. Narrating Colvin’s thoughts throughout the film, Pike gives moviegoers a glimpse of her tenacity for her profession and strength needed in battle, even after she loses her eye in a grenade attack in Sri Lanka in 2001. “Make that suffering part of the record,” she says as if physical pain was always a component of her job description.

Throwing herself in the dirt to dodge bullets, however, wasn’t the only suffering Colvin had to endure. Heineman and Amel explore Colvin’s alcoholism and PTSD, both of which resulted from the war-zone nightmares she was consistently haunted by. “You’ve seen more than most soldiers,” a colleague tells her at one point in the film. Pike’s confident performance maximizes these mentally draining scenes, and the script manages to help with some of the heavy lifting.

All the same, in “A Private War,” Pike is perfectly capable of carrying the film on her own. Whether she sits down to interview a heartless dictator face to face or watches the unearthing of a mass grave holding the remains of Saddam Hussein victims, Pike’s intense passion and genuine humanity shine through.

At a time when journalists are being labeled “the enemy of the people” from the highest levels of our own government, “A Private War” is here to remind everyone that they’re really not.

Rosamund Pike – A United Kingdom

March 3, 2017 by  
Filed under Interviews

In the historical drama “A United Kingdom,” Academy Award-nominated actress Rosamund Pike (“Gone Girl”) portrays Ruth Williams, a former WWII ambulance driver in London who marries Prince Seretse Khama (David Oyelowo, “Selma”) and would later serve as the inaugural First Lady of Botswana. Their interracial marriage was considered controversial by the apartheid government of South Africa and the tribal elders of Seretse’s homeland, which was known at the time as Bechuanaland.

During an interview with me last week, Pike, 38, discussed Ruth and Seretse’s relationship and the research she did to play the character. She also talked about the timeliness of the film and what she hopes audiences learn about the power of true love.

In your research on Seretse and Ruth’s relationship, what was something you learned about Ruth’s life that you found particularly interesting?

I think I learned from reading her own articles. She wrote a series of articles for something called the Sunday Dispatch, which was a newspaper in England during the time she was in Africa. Those articles are the most illuminating because she was not a journalist. She was not edited. You really got the flavor of her voice. She was really funny and witty. I was also really struck by how important her experiences in the war were to her. She mentioned it briefly in the film that she drove an ambulance. She was on the front lines. She was evacuated as a young woman and came back to London, but couldn’t bear the boredom.

Was Seretse and Ruth’s relationship something you learned about in school during in history class?

No, not at all. It was too embarrassing for the British government.

What spoke to you about this story that made you want to be a part of it?

David [Oyelowo] sent me the script, but I didn’t know anything about the story. Then I saw photos of [Seretse and Ruth] and got to look into their eyes. I thought that if still images could move me that much, who knows what a film could do. Also, the book (“Colour Bar: The Triumph of Seretse Khama and His Nation” by Susan Williams), which our film is based on, is wonderful. It’s fascinatingly detailed about the history, and [Williams] also uses a lot of original sources. She got to interview both Seretse’s sister and Ruth’s sister. You get a very keen impression of both of them.

Ruth passed away almost 15 years ago. If you had the opportunity to ask her a question, what is something you would have asked her that you didn’t get from your research?

I imagine you wouldn’t get to know her very well by asking her direct questions. I imagine she was the kind of woman who, although she lived through all these incredible experiences, was probably better at small talk. I think you would have to get to know her gently. You would probably have to start with what kind of music she likes and talk about her grandchildren and sort of get into it that way.

Did you talk to David and his wife, Jessica, about their own personal story of their interracial marriage and whether or not there were any parallels to Seretse and Ruth?

Yes, I was very interested in their story—not that they endured the kind of racism that Ruth and Seretse endured. David and Jessica had a couple of stories early on of things that I was able to try and create expression from, especially with some of the casual attacks they have experienced and Jessica’s complete anger, which sort of rose up. I found [her anger] very indicative of what Ruth felt.

Here in the U.S., interracial marriage has only been legal for 50 years. Doesn’t that strike you as not so long ago? Isn’t it crazy to think that it just happened?

Oh, I know! The principles of apartheid and separation and segregation do seem crazy. What’s interesting is to explore why people felt it. Then you can understand the danger of anything repeating itself—prejudice coming back in. It’s a large part of why I wanted to make this story. Yes, the story shows their love was able to overcome prejudice, but almost more importantly is that they conquered fear. They conquered fear in Botswana and fear among their families. They loved each other so truly and so passionately and so truthfully, people couldn’t help but be swayed by it. I think love can be a huge weapon in overcoming fear.

Do you consider it a timely film in the U.S. now that the political landscape has become so negative?

I think “A United Kingdom” is a weirdly, timely movie now. I always felt it would be timeless. And now we see that it’s quite timely. We’re living in this culture where we’re now being asked not to trust people, and this is a movie about the power of trust—trusting in yourself and trusting in others and asking people to put their trust in you. When you think about Ruth, it’s unusual in a movie to get the experience of a white person who is being excluded from a black world that they are craving to belong in. That was a very interesting perspective.

How has your life changed since 2014 when you earned your first Academy Award nomination for “Gone Girl?” Is it much easier to get your foot in the door? Are you getting more phone calls from filmmakers? Was there moment when you realized things were different?

It’s hugely much easier, but you’re always having to work. You can never slack off. There are millions of people who saw “Gone Girl,” but there are still plenty of people who never did. You still have to try to convince people. That never goes away.

Gone Girl

October 3, 2014 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Tyler Perry
Directed by: David Fincher (“The Social Network,” “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”)
Written by: Gillian Flynn (debut)

When a beautiful young woman disappears mysteriously in this country, leaving behind a too-calm husband who, in the 30 seconds of video the 24-hour cable news networks replay hour after hour, doesn’t appear to be concerned enough, the court of public opinion—and the shrieking harpies on said cable news networks—has the husband convicted of murder before the first commercial break.

“Gone Girl,” the latest film from director David Fincher, based on the smash-hit novel by Gillian Flynn (who also wrote the screenplay), feels ripped from the pages of Us Weekly and the programming of HLN. Laid-back, jock-ish Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) returns home from his bar to find his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) is missing, the house amiss with the signs of a struggle. A diligent detective (Kim Dickens) and her skeptical partner (Patrick Fugit) begin investigating, noticing the pieces of Nick’s story don’t add up, with expensive credit card splurges in his name and the damning testimony of a neighbor who claims Amy told her of Nick’s physical and verbal abuse.

Nick also comes across aloof and cold as the national media spotlight intensifies on him, committing huge PR gaffes like smiling at a press conference about his missing wife and posing for a selfie with an over-eager volunteer, the blood in the water attracting a Nancy Grace-like shark (Missi Pyle) who practically calls for Nick’s execution every night on national TV. But is Nick innocent or guilty? Was Amy the abused wife her diary describes, or the anti-social trust fund shut-in bitter about moving from New York City to Missouri? Where exactly does the truth lie?

While both Affleck and Fincher have referred to “Gone Girl” as a satire in interviews leading up to the film’s release, this description misses the mark. Sure, the depiction of the media in the movie is ridiculous, but nothing comes close to biting satire or even the hoisting-with-their-own-petard model that both “The Daily Show” and “Last Week Tonight” traffic in. Sure, it’s stupid, but all Fincher and Flynn really did was change the names of the anchors. Toothless satire aside, “Gone Girl” is a fantastic face-value thriller, with enough twists and turns to remain completely unpredictable. Affleck and Pike are great in roles that call for both of them to be honest with each other while being dishonest to the world, and Tyler Perry—of all people–turns in a funny, assured performance as a high-profile celebrity lawyer with more nuance than 10 Madeas smashed together.

Maybe Fincher will be watching the reaction audiences at large have to the film, silently judging us all as philistines who fail to notice the scathing criticism he thinks he’s delivering to the already dead horse of the mainstream media’s credibility. Good thing the movie is extremely enjoyable anyway.

Jack Reacher

January 4, 2013 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Tom Cruise, Rosamund Pike, Robert Duvall
Directed by: Christopher McQuarrie  (“The Way of the Gun”)
Written by: Christopher McQuarrie (“Valkyrie”)

As the year comes to a close, the patterns at the box office are typically the same.  To capitalize on family outings at the movie theater, late December is usually reserved for broad, family-based comedies, tent-pole franchise films, and those films that are waiting to make their Oscar push. Every now and then, however, you get a film that doesn’t fit neatly into any of those categories.

Based on the popular novel “One Shot” by Lee Child, “Jack Reacher” stars Tom Cruise as the title character, an ex-Army cop investigating the deaths of five random people at the hands of a sniper. Along the way, a conspiracy unfolds as Reacher and the shooter’s defense attorney Helen Rodin (Rosamund Pike) try to uncover the truth while determining who they can trust.

This is the kind of movie that Cruise was built for. He continues to be one of the most charismatic actors in Hollywood and it is no different here. Though his much-maligned but profoundly awesome running style is sadly absent from most of this film, Cruise displays plenty of action-star quality physicality with hand-to-hand combat. For her role, Pike plays it pretty decently, but the supporting cast gets lost behind Cruise. Other smaller roles include Werner Herzog playing a terribly unoriginal villain and Robert Duvall turning in one of the best parts of the film.

Still, “Jack Reacher” is hampered by an inconsistent tone.  While the film never quite shoots for comedy, so to speak, there are misplaced scenes and lines that act more as a confusing distraction than effective comic relief.  There is a scene, for example, where Cruise’s character fights several men in a bathroom that feels as if it belongs in a Three Stooges movie instead a first-rate action movie. The script of the film is also a weak point, with cheesy dialogue and only about half of Reacher’s one-liners truly hitting their mark. The narrative of the film, while enough to keep it chugging along, is pretty generic and very difficult to fully invested in. This is complicated by the fact that much is made of Reacher’s mysterious and nomadic background but it is never truly explored.

The film never quite takes off and ascends above typical crime thriller material.  There are plenty of car chases, scenes of violent, and plot twists, but most of the latter are done quite clumsily. What makes “Jack Reacher” successful, however, is the sheer entertainment value of an on-screen personality like Cruise. If you can last through the entire two-hour runtime, “Jack Reacher” is a decent way to waste time, but not much else.

Wrath of the Titans

March 30, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Sam Worthington, Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, Rosamund Pike
Directed by: Jonathan Liebesman (“Battle: Los Angeles”)
Written by: Dan Mazeau (debut) and David Leslie Johnson (“Red Riding Hood”)

When we last left our hero, half man/half god Perseus (Sam Worthington), he had saved a princess, squared off with the gods, and defeated the Kraken to wrap up 2010’s “Clash of the Titans,” the poorly-received remake of the 1981 film of the same name. While the weak script was about as deep as a Grecian urn, the spectacular action sequences drove the mythological motion picture to nearly half a billion dollars at the box office, paving the way for more adventures featuring the ass-kicking demigod in the sequel “Wrath of the Titans.”

“Wrath” picks up the story 10 years after the events of the first film. The time of the gods is drawing to a close thanks to humanity’s lack of devotion and worship, and their weakened state has made containing the imprisoned Titans a difficult task. Led by Kronos, a giant lava monster and father to Zeus (Liam Neeson) and Hades (Ralph Fiennes), the angered Titans threaten to wipe out both the gods and mankind. The world’s only hope lies in convincing Perseus, content as a father and a fisherman, to hop on the back of his Pegasus and wield his sword once again.

Even with a sparse script that seems better suited for a video game, “Wrath” manages to improve on its predecessor in the screenwriting department. That isn’t to say it’s well-written or anything, but at least the brevity of it leads to it being not quite as big a mess of mythology and melodrama this time around. Director Jonathan Liebesman (“Battle: Los Angeles”) wisely amps up the action, pausing only long enough on plot points to set up the next set piece. From a forest battle with a pair of giant Cyclopes to perilous trek through a massive labyrinth to a final battle with the aforementioned towering lava monster, “Wrath” rarely lets up the visual assault.

Worthington’s Perseus remains a hero of few words, which is probably for the best. As estranged godly brothers, “Schindler’s List” co-stars Neeson and Fiennes bask in the cheese while making the most of their expanded screen time, getting a chance to enter the battle this time instead of standing around in the heavens unleashing Krakens and whatnot. While Rosamund Pike’s Queen Andromeda (replacing “Clash’s” Alexa Davalos in the role) merely fills the generic love interest role in Perseus’ team, Toby Kebbell’s demigod Agenor brings some welcome comic relief to the quest. And an always-welcome Bill Nighy delights as daffy fallen god Hephaestus, who’s choice in a conversation partner proves that the only people who still want a goofy clockwork owl hanging out in their fantasy action movies are, indeed, crazy.

Barney’s Version

February 18, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Paul Giamatti, Rosamund Pike, Dustin Hoffman
Directed by: Richard J. Lewis (debut)
Written by: Michael Konyves (debut)

As far as cinematic schlubs are concerned, not many actors out there can play bitter more brilliantly than Academy Award nominee Paul Giamatti (“Cinderella Man”). Even those with the physical traits to be considered schlubby like Jon Lovitz, Danny DeVito, and Kevin James would have to dig pretty deep to give nuanced performances like the ones Giamatti delivers in 2003’s “American Splendor” as late comic book icon Harvey Pekar or in 2004’s road-trip wine adventure “Sideways” as a sourpuss writer.

Once again, Giamitti embraces his inner grump in “Barney’s Version,” a Canadian drama based on the 1997 fictional autobiography of the same name by Mordecai Richler. While the structure of the novel doesn’t figure into director Richard J. Lewis’ film adaptation (footnotes are used in the book to correct factual errors Barney writes due to Alzheimer’s disease), “Barney’s Version” is still a quasi-epic biopic centered on the paradoxical life of a man with nothing and everything to live for.

In the film, Giamatti portrays title character Barney Panofsky, a once-widowed, twice-divorced TV producer in Montreal whose entire existence has been an up and down battle between his heart and his head. Flashbacks mark moments that have impacted his life – from a drunken encounter with best friend Boogie (Scott Speedman), which may have led to his disappearance, to his longtime pursuit of third wife Miriam (Rosamund Pike), whom he meets during his second wedding reception.

Watching Barney search for happiness in the most graceless ways is uncomfortable at times, but his sincere personality peers out enough from behind his callous exterior to feel just enough sympathy for him without dismissing his countless flaws. There’s something uplifting about his stubbornness and refusal to conform. Barney stays the same as the world changes around him. It’s a life filled with disappointment, but one that’s still worth living even if it’s for the little glimpses of a better one.

Surrogates

September 25, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Bruce Willis, Radha Mitchell, Rosamund Pike
Directed by: Jonathan Mostow (“Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines”)
Written by: Michael Ferris (“Terminator Salvation”) and John Brancato (“Terminator Salvation”)
 
Screenwriters Michael Ferris and John Brancato have a monopoly on the man-versus-machine movie this year. While they might be remembered more for penning director McG’s much-anticipated albeit disappointing sequel “Terminator Salvation,” a more engaging entry into the writing duo’s science fiction filmography is the less-publicized “Surrogates” starring Bruce Willis.

Directed by Jonathan Mostow, who’s had a hand in the “Terminator” franchise himself with the silly third installment “Rise of the Machines” in 2003, “Surrogates” finds itself in an awkward spot in September. Not big enough to play among the blockbusters of the summer and easily removed from the Oscar bait of the fall, “Surrogates” might be able to survive if enough people give it a chance to be exactly what moviegoers probably need during this transitional period: a quick flick that’s fairly satisfying.

In “Surrogates,” 98 percent of the world is run by humanlike robots known as surrogates. Basically, any human “operator” who owns one of these pristine, synthetic bodies can virtually link up to it and live out their entire life in the comfort of their own home. No longer does anyone have to go to work, run errands, or risk their lives walking out the front door. A surrogate will take care of it all.

Willis stars as Greer, an FBI agent, who along with his partner Peters (Radha Mitchell) are investigating the mysterious death of a young “operator” who happens to be the son of surrogate creator Canter (James Cromwell). Although it was thought to be impossible, someone has found a way to kill human operators by destroying their surrogates.

One person who would love to get his hands on whatever is overloading the “surries” is the Prophet (Ving Rhames), a human resistance leader whose hundreds of followers cling to his every word about the depressing dehumanization of society. Greer, too, is witnessing his own world slowly but surely distancing itself from reality. Unable to face the death of their son, Greer’s wife Maggie (Rosamund Pike) hides away in her virtual existence where she doesn’t have to confront those memories.

Much of “Surrogates” is standard sci-fi fare that never gets too technical or tries to deemphasize a plot that sometimes moves like the cogs of a rickety clock. It keeps a tolerable pace, but skips a few important beats along the way. Still, as illogical as much of it is, “Surrogates” is better throw-away-cinema than “Gamer” of earlier this month. If you were able to dodge that bullet and still need a sci-fi fix, you could do a lot worse than this.