Tag: ben whishaw

Lilting


Lilting (2014)
★★★ / ★★★★

Many LGBTQ movies tend to rest of trivialities, often relying on the physical attractiveness of its leads to take the audience from beginning to end. “Lilting,” written and directed by Hong Khaou, is an elegant and sophisticated film about loss and mourning. It is about many things: memories, communication, love. With these qualities being front and center, the picture is able to transcend the sub-genre. Most importantly, it has a story worth telling and it urges the audience to think about its messages afterwards.

Kai (Andrew Leung) has been in a relationship with Richard (Ben Whishaw) for four years and the two have moved in together. The situation gets complicated, however, every time Kai’s mother, Junn (Pei-pei Cheng), comes for a visit: She does not know that her son is gay. After Kai’s untimely death, Richard feels the need to tell his former lover’s mother the truth about Kai and the love they shared.

I admired the way the language barrier is treated with respect instead of humor. In lesser hands, Junn could have been written as a strict Cambodian-Chinese mother without much depth and dimension in addition to this surface characteristic. Instead of treating her like a joke because she can neither speak nor understand English, there is genuine interest in figuring out what she might be thinking or feeling when the translator hired by Richard, Vann (Naomi Christie), is not around or remaining quiet because the occasion calls for it. Notice how the camera simply but confidently rests on Junn’s face. We could feel a history and experience behind those eyes.

The flashbacks between the Richard and Kai are highly efficient. Notice that each memory tells us something about the dynamics of their relationship. In one scene, we observe how much they adore one another. In another scene, they disagree to an extent that they eventually get under each other’s skins. Because we encounter variety, we get a good picture of what Richard lost. We feel his loss. We wonder how he will be able to move on. He certainly deserves to.

Less interesting is a possible romantic connection between Junn and a fellow resident in the care home named Alan (Peter Bowles). Much of the humor is derived from their interactions, but I found the charade to be a little forced. This relationship does not come to fruition and I wondered if the film might have been stronger if the time spent with Alan were eliminated and allowed more chances for Junn and Richard to try and connect.

The key word is “try” because the two lead characters’ relationship is like that of two inexperienced dancers who must practice to learn the moves—which includes stepping on one another’s toes from time to time. And yet even though Junn and Richard are not always on the same wavelength, what they have never comes across as cliché. Credit to Cheng and Whishaw for delivering rich performances that inspire us to look a little closer at the screen and read between the silences.

Skyfall


Skyfall (2012)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Two MI6 agents lie dead on the floor while the third sits on a chair as he bleeds to death. The item of interest, a hard drive which contains the identities of NATO agents currently immersed in undercover work among terrorist organizations, is taken from a laptop just minutes before. M (Judi Dench) insists that James Bond (Daniel Craig) retrieve the item at all costs. A failure in Turkey means putting lives at risk as well as a justified questioning of the effectiveness of MI6’s current leadership.

“Skyfall,” written by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and John Logan, is a concerto of thrills and suspense in which the highly destructive action sequences balances with nuanced, smart, and playful dialogue. The film has a flair for presentation which makes its individual scenes both a sight to behold and an enveloping experience. It understands the value of range and how to utilize its techniques with efficiency.

Take the scenes set in Shanghai in which the visuals point to excess. The skyscrapers are majestic under the heavy shade of night with their lights so bright and hypnotic, it is like being dropped in the middle of downtown Las Vegas on acid, so much to see and digest while the camera teases, only giving us glimpses of its beauty. On the other hand, scenes set in a casino in Macau provide us a smaller scope without sacrificing the elegance and grandeur of the place. As it should be, each destination that 007 visits has something special and memorable for its audience so we feel excited at the thought of what it might offer in the following exotic locale.

Despite the glitz and glamour, the goals that need to be fulfilled are always clear. Once the assignment is met with success or failure, it is onto the next scene, unpredictable at times in whether the screenplay is going to increase the ante by introducing yet another drop of complexity or giving us two seconds to release the tension that has accumulated in our bodies via a well-placed joke or banter. Bond’s interactions with the brainy Q (Ben Whishaw), effeminate but dangerous Silva (Javier Bardem), and inexperienced but determined Eve (Naomie Harris) are so enjoyable, I wished their conversations are longer. By playing with our expectations, not simply focusing on making the action scenes bigger and louder, the picture jolts our brains from going on autopilot, just waiting to be entertained.

Notice that there is not one completely original action sequence and yet all of them work because it is able to draw inspiration from the game-changers and construct the stunts in a such a way that it feels fresh to this universe, from an appropriate number of beats between uncomfortable silence and utter chaos to specific shots cheeky enough to remind us that Bond remains a legend and an inspiration because he is the epitome of a debonair man in a timeless suit.

Perhaps most importantly, Sam Mendes, the director, plays upon his strengths as a filmmaker whose work is mostly rooted in intimate drama. Most interesting being that as the film slinks toward its third act, it has a feeling of something personal at stake for Bond. While he remains a cool-headed professional, the difficult, almost inescapably desperate, circumstances remind us that even though he is trained to be as tough as steel, as calculating as an apex predator, and as cold-hearted as a bullet set on a specific trajectory, there remains a humanity in him. While Martin Campbell’s “Casino Royale” gave us a Bond with emotional fragility, Mendes’ “Skyfall” is a fitting complement because it gives us a Bond with depth and physical vulnerability.

Brideshead Revisited


Brideshead Revisited (2008)
★★ / ★★★★

I really wanted to like this film more than I did because it has elements that instantly grabbed my interest: a period story with a love triangle that happens to comment about the limitations of religion. But for film that runs for about a hundred and thirty minutes, it should’ve been stronger. I thought the first half was very good because it has a mystery regarding why Matthew Goode’s character claims that he doesn’t know himself or what he wants in life. We are then taken back a couple of years when Goode meets the rebellious Ben Whishaw and the elegant Hayley Atwell–two siblings that he fell in love with. We also got to see Emma Thompson as their extremely religious mother and how the way she raised her children had negative consequences. But somewhere in the middle, the story got too cluttered: some characters leave without some sort of closure; then we are suddenly propelled to the present as we try to figure out each character all over again. It was an exhausting experience because I was so invested with the three leads during the first half of the film. I wanted to know more about their lives in the past than I did in the present. Another fatal mistake that the filmmakers had was near the ending. I’m not sure if I should blame Julian Jarrold, the director, or the actual novel itself (I haven’t read it so I wouldn’t know) but there was a scene where we’re supposed to question Goode’s true intentions. After watching that scene, I felt like a rug was pulled from under me and I didn’t know whether I should still care for the character or not. Maybe if the director had done it in a much more subtle manner, it would’ve worked but I was really taken aback. This film offers gorgeous architectures, paintings, and clothing but the story didn’t make much sense because of the way it unravelled in the second half. The best part of the film was watching the chemistry among Goode, Whishaw, and Atwell; how their youth got the best of them even though they had all the potential in the world to become gods of their own destinies.