Tag: jamie bell


Rocketman (2019)
★★★ / ★★★★

“Maybe I should’ve tried to be more ordinary.”

In the opening sequences of Dexter Fletcher’s entertaining and surprisingly moving “Rocketman,” which focuses on Elton John’s breakthrough years, it is communicated with blinding clarity that the subject will never receive the love he deserves from his parents (Bryce Dallas Howard, Steven Mackintosh). And so the viewers are inspired to make an assumption: The rest of the picture will be about Elton attempting to fill that void. On the one hand, the presumption is accurate. There is an abundance of rock-and-roll, sex, booze, and drugs. On the other hand, the film is able to overcome the expected trappings of a musical biopic because it is willing to embrace a more introspective approach—even if it means applying the breaks on its forward momentum. It dares to take risks—sometimes unnecessary risks. And that’s rock ’n’ roll.

It is an interesting way to tell a story, particularly when real-life events merge—at times quite suddenly—into imaginings and longings. The approach is never the same. A song and dance number can break out at any time: in the middle of a suburban street, at a psychedelic party, while making a record, while arguing over a record, back stage before a big show, even when one’s life is on the balance. It makes the point that putting on a performance is almost like another addiction for Elton. That is why when confronted by the searing question of why he feels the need to put on ostentatious outfits during a show, he cannot provide a strong answer. A performance is expected out of him, on and off the stage. He feels the need to deliver because he does not wish to disappoint his fans—just as he is afraid to disappoint his parents who are already cold to him.

While all of Elton’s memorable songs are present, from “The Bitch is Back” and “Your Song” to “Crocodile Rock” and “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” notice that if these were stripped away completely, the movie would be able to stand on its own. Taron Egerton plays Elton John with such high level of vivacity, even when his character is in the dumps, that it is near impossible not to feel impressed with his all-in approach. Egerton shines most when paired with Jamie Bell, portraying Bernie Taupin, the lyricist alongside Elton’s melodies and Elton’s best friend. The love shared between Elton and Bernie is so strong and infectious, I caught myself wishing they had a movie of just hanging out, laughing, being silly, writing songs.

It does not glamorize the life of a superstar. In fact, the screenplay by Lee Hall makes a point that it can be such a cripplingly lonely profession. It is a great challenge to discern between those who only want you for your fame and money and those who genuinely care about you. Elton is able to find financial success, but he remains that child who yearns to be hugged by his father. This theme runs throughout the film and it becomes sadder every time the subject is disappointed by a person he thinks is being true. And so he snorts another line of cocaine. Followed by gulping down yet another bottle of vodka.

Unlike the Queen biopic “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “Rocketman” is proud to embrace its subject’s sexuality. Instead of hiding it, or toning it down, or shaming it, as in the former picture, it is celebrated here—not by flooding the movie with characters who nod or smile approvingly but through Elton’s resiliency as a gifted artist who just so happens to be a homosexual. Here is a musical biopic with elements of fantasy that gets it exactly right.


Snowpiercer (2013)
★★ / ★★★★

In an attempt to stop global warming seventeen years earlier, CW-7 was released into the air. But instead of lowering the temperatures to a desired level, the entire planet is inadvertently thrown toward a whole new Ice Age. The remaining human survivors are aboard a self-sustaining train called The Rattling Ark. The rich live lavishly in the front end of the train while the poor barely subsist in substandard conditions at the tail end. Naturally, the latter group revolts.

Based on the graphic novel “Le Transperceneige” by Jacques Lob, Benjamin Legrand and Jean-Marc Rochette, “Snowpiercer,” directed by Joon-ho Bong, has a fairly entertaining although standard first half but it is derailed almost completely by the second half when the lead actor must bring to life the motivations and inner turmoil of a reluctant hero. Because the performer is unable to communicate that he is playing a man who has seen a lot of unimaginable horrors over the years, the overall struggle of the class he represents loses traction. By the end, it is just another science fiction film with an interesting premise but fails to deliver its potential.

Chris Evans plays Curtis, one of the handful of survivors in the back of the train who still has all of his limbs intact. Evans is effective in conveying believable toughness and determination, but when he is required to be vulnerable and tortured, I could see through the performance. This is especially problematic with the scene in which Curtis reveals what had happened in the tail section when there was no food for about a month. I felt Evans trying to put on a mask of angst and trying to get the tears flowing. A more seasoned actor would have been more successful at getting us to pay attention to the story being told rather than noticing the forced performance.

This is problematic because Curtis is a reluctant leader of the oppressed. People around him believe that he can lead but just because they believe it, does not necessarily mean that we automatically do, too. In addition, the aforementioned scene does not work because his character is not given a well-defined arc. Clearly, the screenplay needs work.

I enjoyed the dinginess and darkness of the tail section, how one can barely discern, for instance, a person lying down, covered in gray clothing, from, say, a pile of boxes or pipes. One gets a real impression that people have lived in that environment for years so one could almost get an idea of the stench of the overcrowded cars.

Jamie Bell, who plays one of the unhappy oppressed, plays his character to match the environment: rough around the edges, desperate, filled with rage. He and Tilda Swinton, whose character is so despicable surely she deserves everything that is coming to her, are highlights of the picture. I wished, however, that Octavia Spencer, playing an enraged mother whose son is forcibly taken from her to see Wilford (Ed Harris)—the man who runs the train, were given more to do.

There are images that come off completely fake. Every time the camera shows the icy terrain outside, just about everything looks computerized. The buildings that have collapsed look like something I have already seen from a video game back in the early 2000s. The director shows the frozen wasteland several times and it just looks cheap.

“Snowpiercer” will give the impression that it is compelling to those distracted by the action—which are mostly well-executed. Looking closer upon Joon-ho Bong and Kelly Masterson’s screenplay, however, reveals obvious questions gone unanswered, poor characterization especially that of the lead protagonist’s, and its preoccupation toward introducing surrealistic elements that do nothing to progress the pacing and the story. Ultimately, in order for a science fiction picture to impress or set a standard, it must go beyond its cool premise.


Filth (2013)
★★ / ★★★★

“Filth,” based on the screenplay and directed by Jon S. Baird, commits one big miscalculation: By the end, it tries to convince us that deep down the main character is a good person. He simply is not, despite his circumstances—which, one might argue, are the results of his actions—and there is nothing wrong by leaving the protagonist as is. It is the brave thing to do. No, it is the right thing to do for this kind of material.

A promotion to become detective inspector is up for grabs and Bruce Robertson (James McAvoy) wants it so badly that he has already put several plots in motion designed to humiliate his co-workers (Jamie Bell, Imogen Poots, Emun Elliott, Gary Lewis, Brian McCardie), preferably as publicly as possible. He is convinced that if he gets the job, his family will be one again.

The script is dirty, alive, and full of energy. Though it fails to create a convincing work environment, especially since there is murder case is involved, there is anticipation in what might happen next, who will be used—willingly or not—to set certain vehicles in motion, and what sort of lines Bruce chooses to cross just so he can get a smidgen of an advantage over the rest of his competitors. This is a portrait of a man who is always checking if he is ahead of the game. If he thinks he is second place, his aim would be to destroy the competition.

But watching a series of bad behaviors begins to get exhausting about halfway through. Wouldn’t it have been more interesting if Bruce had been a rotten person but is actually great in his line of work—so good at it that if he did end up snagging the promotion, we would, ironically, feel relieved about the fact? Instead, the screenplay is superficial in that it appears to be stuck in showing how “bad” he is: alcoholic, addicted to cocaine, misogynistic, homophobic. It fails to show Bruce as smart, pragmatic, quick to think on his feet when shoved into a corner—the very qualities necessary, in theory, to earn a higher supervisory rank.

Dream-like sequences and short hallucinatory shots do not work. These techniques are used as crutches—shortcuts—to communicate Bruce’s mindset as quickly as possible. As a result, there is neither depth nor dimension in how or what we come to discover about him. This proves problematic during the final quarter of the picture because we are asked to sympathize with him. It does not work because not enough time and effort is put into creating a whole person with whom we may grow to care about over time. Thus, the practical decision would have been to let Bruce be bad to the bone through and through especially since that is the material’s strength in the first place.

Based on Irvine Walsh’s novel, the core of “Filth” is quite soft when it should have been as hard as a diamond. There are all sorts of profanities but they are nothing new. Remove them from the equation and what remains is a standard picture with enough attitude to keep it barely afloat. The same cannot be said about better movies of its type, like Danny Boyle’s fast-talking “Trainspotting” and Martin McDonagh’s swaggering “In Bruges,” because there are more layers to them.

Fantastic Four

Fantastic Four (2015)
★★ / ★★★★

Somewhere inside “Fantastic Four,” written by Jeremy Slater, Simon Kingberg and Josh Trank, is a glimmer of great movie and it can be found during the first half, before a most dire miscalculation of jumping ahead by one year. As a result, the material feels like two very different movies in terms of atmosphere, tone, and, perhaps most importantly, quality of storytelling. One brims with excitement, intelligence, and assured pacing, but the other offers awkward dialogue and disjointed action sequences that rely on CGI to create a semblance of magnificence.

Equally important limitation is the running time. Clocking in at about one hundred minutes, the origin story of Mr. Fantastic (Miles Teller), The Human Torch (Michael B. Jordan), The Invisible Woman (Kate Mara), and The Thing (Jamie Bell) comes across as way too short, rushed. Although we get a feeling of their surface personalities and a slight whiff of who they are or what they might represent outside of their abilities, moments critical to establish character arcs are excised completely. This decision is like cutting a person’s carotid artery and expecting that individual to live.

An established and well-defined character arc is the lifeline of a superhero’s origin story, not impressive special and visual effects. Without it, there is no way the material can create a convincing level of empathy for its characters. To create an arc, the story and its characters must be given time to evolve. Here, that important point is ignored altogether.

Most enjoyable about the film, directed by Josh Trank, is the gritty, realistic look and feel of the first half, especially Reed Richards’ struggle, future Mr. Fantastic, to be taken seriously as a young scientist. I relished the small moments when an adult tells a child or teenager that his creation does not amount to much because it isn’t perfect or there is no practical application for the invention. I could relate because, as a young scientist and someone who loves science, people’s lack of imagination and appreciation for the steps required to get from Point A to Point B is at times most frustrating.

I wished the screenplay had developed the friendship between Reed and Ben, the latter becoming The Thing after being exposed to energy from another dimension. Teller and Bell share natural chemistry. There is effervescence and sensitivity in the way they carry themselves with one another and execute the dialogue. Because the film ignores Reed and Ben’s relationship eventually, the work suffers later on when one feel betrayed by the other’s action (or inaction).

When one takes the time to look closely, one is likely to realize that “Fantastic Four” is not as horrible as most viewers claim to be. It is very disappointing, certainly, but the first half is so strong that it is almost worth seeing. It is the kind of a movie that one won’t mind sitting through during a lazy day when it is playing on television.

Nymphomaniac: Vol. II

Nymphomaniac: Vol. II (2013)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Lars von Trier’s “Nymphomaniac: Vol. II” is a superior second half because it strips away symbolic—some might say pretentious—talk that range from fly fishing to the Fibonacci sequence. It feels like a slightly more ordinary drama on a technical level but it is ultimately the correct approach because it gives the picture a chance to narrow its attention on the deeply damaged self-described nymphomaniac.

Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) notices that although she has told plenty of details about her highly erotic sexual encounters with other men—most of them complete strangers—Seligman (Stellan Skarsgård) is not at all aroused by any of it. When confronted by the fact, he tells her that this is exactly why he is the perfect person to listen to her stories. Unlike many, he is able to provide her an objective opinion of what she has and is going through. Seemingly satisfied with his answer, she proceeds to recall a time in her life in which she has completely lost all sexual sensation.

The portion of the film that grabbed me most is the subchapter called “Dangerous Men.” It is injected with a sharp but very uncomfortable sense of humor as well as a slight mix of horror. I say “horror” because I was afraid for the lead character’s safety. At one point I wondered what else Joe is willing to give when, really, she has nothing else to offer.

Since her husband cannot keep up with her sexual needs, they make an arrangement that will essentially free her to have sex with other men. Her choice is a black man wearing a green jacket who does not speak a word of English. In the motel room, two men enter the door: the man she had her eyes on and his brother-in-law. She is surprised by this because she had arranged to meet only with one. Still, she welcomes the opportunity.

It is a very funny sequence because the way it unfolds is far from anything many of us might come to expect. The writer-director uses humor in a subversive way: by taking the subject’s addiction to sex as a template and applying a droplet of comedy on the surface, we are given a chance to laugh at the ridiculousness of the situation and at ourselves.

There is a level of irony to it. Through a solemn narration, we learn that Joe is expecting a sexy and steamy encounter since the language barrier will force them to focus on their bodies and to determine what they need from one another telepathically. Instead, it almost turns into some sort of farce. Body parts flopping about—utilizing quick close-ups of sexual organs from time to time—made me snicker and then laugh uncontrollably. The scene has a two-fold function: to take us out of the situation by creating a lightness and to leave us off-balanced for what is about to come.

It has been a while since I have encountered a character that shook me to the very core. K (Jamie Bell, absolutely brilliant here—my level of admiration to his performances matches that of Uma Thurman’s in “Nymphomaniac: Vol. I”) is one that I will remember for a long time. We learn close to nothing about him but the things he ends up doing with Joe made me watch some of the images through my fingers.

I don’t consider myself to be a prude, but the erotic practice of dominance and submission has never appealed to me. (Perhaps never will.) So to watch someone being whipped—causing welts, bruises, and wounds—and being smacked across the face—the writer-director ensures that we see it all unfold front and center… with the accompanying sounds—made me feel very uneasy. Still, I was unable to look away.

“Nymphomaniac: Vol. II,” like BDSM, is not for everyone. It is challenging, weird, sad, and at times confusing with what it really wants to say or be. But for me, just about everything about it works because even though the range of topics it wishes to tackle is not pretty, it encourages us to understand—maybe even empathize—with the lead character. When one considers to look at the big picture, Joe is an outcast. The outcast in us should be able to relate to her on some level.

Jane Eyre

Jane Eyre (2011)
★★★ / ★★★★

After Jane Eyre’s father passed away when she was a child, she was sent to live with Mrs. Reed (Sally Hawkins), the aunt who had given up loving her because she often caused trouble. Mrs. Reed eventually sent Jane to a boarding school where her behavior was expected to be corrected. When Jane turns of age, now played by Mia Wasikowska, she works as a governess in Thornfield Hall where she meets the respected Edward Fairfax Rochester (Michael Fassbender). One of the reasons why people around them believe that they shouldn’t be together is money: he is rich and she is poor. Other than his attraction to her, there is another, darker reason which Mr. Rochester is willing to keep a secret no matter what.

Based on the novel by Charlotte Brontë, “Jane Eyre” surprised me in the best ways possible because it’s actually sexy, a quality I rarely expect from period films. Part of it is due to the performances. Wasikowska nicely embodies a plain beauty who can easily hide on the background. But when her character has something important to say, she has the ability to change her mannerisms in a nuanced way, whether it be brightening her eyes a little bit or just parting her lips so delicately that she gives off an air of aristocracy. It is impressive to watch her make small changes in her body language yet they are enough to make a statement and allow us to consider what she might be thinking.

Fassbender injects his character with complexity that we cannot help but be suspicious. While it is mentioned that he has a volatile personality, we are actually able to experience his fluctuating warmth and coldness. We want to like him because he is a good fit for Jane, but we approach him with reluctance because of the lingering possibility that he simply wants to use her. After all, he has no problem dangling her in front of his elegant company mostly consisting of women with vile tongues. I loved that each time Fassbender enters a scene, I never could predict how he will play his character.

When the two finally admit their feelings for each other, the cinematography comes into focus but it never overshadows the emotions. While it highlights the aspect of beauty in the way the wind rustles the leaves of trees, caresses the grass, and surfs through the characters’ detailed clothing. Meanwhile, thunderstorm and lightning can be heard and seen from afar which signals that maybe the beauty that we see is a transient, illusory thing.

There is an element of darkness despite the picture’s emotional highs so it kept me curious and cautious. The supernatural elements are deftly handed by the director. We hear ghostly whispers and voices, characters acknowledging curses and bad luck, and we even see unexplained phenomenon like chimney spewing out ash inside a mansion. However, these elements feel like a natural part of this specific story. It helps us to get into a certain mood when Jane goes about the mansion in the middle of the night holding only a candle in her hand and courage in her heart.

There are times when I felt as though the pacing of “Jane Eyre,” based on a screenplay by Moira Buffini and directed by Cary Fukunaga, is a bit rushed. I would have been happy, even if it means adding an extra thirty minutes, to have gotten to know more about Mrs. Fairfax (Judi Dench) and what she really thinks about Jane and Edward’s relationship. Furthermore, the scenes with St. John Rivers (Jamie Bell) toward the end feels tacked on. What is exactly the real connection between he and Jane?


Retreat (2011)
★ / ★★★★

Martin (Cillian Murphy) and Kate (Thandie Newton) opted to spend ten days in the remote Blackholme Island in hopes of curing whatever was vitiating their marriage from the inside. With the help of Doug (Jimmy Yuill), the owner of the island and Martin’s longtime friend, the couple was able to settle in. A couple of days later, bloodied Jack (Jamie Bell) was spotted collapsing in the field across their cottage. Martin and Kate took him inside with reservations. When Jack woke up, he informed Martin that there was an airborne virus that originated from South America which had infected the rest of the planet. Not only was it extremely contagious, it was also lethal for it aggressively attacked people’s respiratory systems. They had to do whatever it took to seal themselves from inside the cottage. “Retreat,” written by Janice Hallett and Carl Tibbetts, drew many wrinkles on my forehead. While I had no qualm in accepting its premise, Martin and Kate’s decisions forced me to mutter many frustrations under my breath. If you were told by someone that everyone was dead or dying in a specific part of the world, would you readily accept such a statement? Martin did. For an architect, requiring to have a certain level of logic for a living, there was something odd about the way he allowed Jack to take over, physically and psychologically, the household. In the least, I expected him to perform a bit of investigation. Given that cellphones, the internet, and the CB radio didn’t work, why didn’t Martin or his wife take it upon themselves to be more creative in asking the same questions in a different way to in order to coax out the wrinkles in Jack’s claims? Instead, much of the picture was dedicated to characters yelling at each other, pointing the gun at one another, and, yes, fighting for weapons that slid across the floor. It just wasn’t interesting. The scenes that were supposed to be thrilling were greatly lacking in tension. For instance, when Kate and Martin finally decided to work together, they made their way to the kitchen to prepare a hearty breakfast. Martin boiled water in a pan while Kate prepared the bread. Jack sat on a chair in a vulnerable angle. We knew exactly was going to happen, but with the right direction, it could have been effective. But it wasn’t. The scene–and many that adopted a similar approach–wasn’t given enough time to simmer. When the husband and wife entered the kitchen, they went directly for the necessary tools-turned-weapons. Two seconds later, Martin took the pan, the water magically hot after being put on the stove just a second before, and splashed it all over the stranger. As a result, it became more about the violence than the suspense when it shouldn’t have been because they didn’t have proof that Jack was lying to them. With a more focused screenplay in terms of delivering thrills and a true understanding of human psychology and behavior, “Retreat,” directed by Carl Tibbets, could have been far more engaging. Although Martin and Kate were supposedly so desperate to get out of the house, the plot was cemented in its increasingly thick contrivances. We sit in our chairs passively, wishing it offered so much more.