Tag: keira knightley

Everest


Everest (2015)
★★ / ★★★★

“Everest” offers a compelling story based on a real tragedy that occurred on May 1996, but the film is nowhere near the former adjective. Under the direction of Baltasar Kormákur, the work is, for the most part, problematic in terms of its choices. What results is a sort-of disaster film that works somewhat on a thriller level but not at all as a dramatic ensemble.

It suffers from an extended exposition aimed to get the audience to care about the climbers of the summit. Of particular interest are Rob Hall (Jason Clarke), the guide with a pregnant wife at home (Keira Knightley), Doug Hansen (John Hawkes), a mailman who wishes to inspire kids to reach for their wildest dreams, and Beck Weathers (Josh Brolin), a climber who is undergoing a difficulty with his marriage—of which much of the details are vague. The supporting characters are given superficial, two- to three-bullet notes just so we are familiar with them. At the same time, as forty minutes to an hour passes, we sit there wondering when, or if, the material will pick up in pacing and interest.

The dialogue is not particularly well-written or engaging—a shame because these people are supposed to be from different parts of the world. At one point, writer Jon Krakauer (Michael Kelly) asks the climbers why they feel the need to climb Mount Everest. We get one good response, but the scene is, for the most part, played as a joke. While it may have happened like so in actuality, it ought to have been treated as a critical scene from a cinematic standpoint. People like myself who believe it is foolish to take on such a dangerous task might genuinely be interested in knowing why. It takes the lazy avenue by sweeping the question under the rug.

The picture is photographed beautifully, particularly the aerial shots. I enjoyed looking at the different types of ice and snow and how they blanket the jagged peaks and slanted terrain. There is a lived-in quality to the various camps, inside and outside of tents, which works because we are convinced that a business is being run and that the people in charge are experienced, professionals. At times it tends to have the look of an outstanding documentary where the filmmakers know that their subject is already fascinating and so the work embraces no pretension.

By the time the final forty minutes roll around, it is too late to save the movie. This is most unfortunate because some of the sequences are quite harrowing and a few of the imageries are horrifying—from the unstoppable, powerful avalanches to the grizzly details of frostbite and gangrene.

Based on the screenplay by William Nicholson and Simon Beaufoy, “Everest” commands images that demand to be seen on the big screen, but the manner in which the human drama is drawn, including the final results, has the quality of a direct-to-DVD, C-grade picture. I would rather have seen a documentary of the doomed commercial expedition.

The Imitation Game


The Imitation Game (2014)
★★★★ / ★★★★

In 1939, mathematician and professor Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) joins a top secret program designed to decrypt Nazi communications. The Enigma program is considered to be near impossible to solve because once the clock strikes midnight, the codes are changed and eighteen hours of hard work is flushed down the drain. The cryptographers must try again the next morning and go through one hundred fifty-nine million million million settings—twenty million years worth of settings—and with a great stroke of luck, the war would be won. Instead, Turing proposes a radical idea.

Although the subject of “The Imitation Game,” written by Graham Moore and directed by Morten Tyldum, is a highly intellectual man, one who is not entirely likable, the film is highly accessible as a drama because it gives us time to appreciate not only Turing’s work but also what he chooses to protect when faced with a threat. It is told in a nonlinear fashion but the transitions feel very natural because the theme involving the protagonist striving toward one thing yet running away from another cuts through time.

The picture is beautiful to look at, from the attires the characters wear to the interiors and exteriors of Bletchley Park. I felt transported to a time and place where everybody is busy trying to work toward a common goal of ending a most egregious war. Not one battle scene is shown and yet there is feeling in the air that many lives are lost each day. The magic is embedded in the urgency of the performances coupled with a few newsreels that highlight the costs of war.

Cumberbatch does not carry the picture because the supporting performers are ace, but he does elevate an already great dramatic material. It is an interesting performance because although Cumberbatch has a cold face, almost villainous, he is able to find—in a consistent matter—small but important ways to communicate varying degrees of vulnerability. I enjoyed watching the fresh choices he makes in terms of how to make Turing more likable in one scene but reverting to being inaccessible again the next. He plays his character in an enigmatic way—most appropriate because he is a puzzle for us to solve, just as the Nazi code is his to decipher.

Touching are the scenes between Turing and Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley), a woman who, despite her intellect, is not allowed by her parents to work alongside men. Their partnership is rooted in a common understanding and respect, but it is never too syrupy that what they share distracts from the main plot. Knightley, too, is able to hit surprising notes that lesser actors would have likely played straight.

There is a scene toward the end, a flashback, that moved me greatly. It involves young Turing (Alex Lawther) receiving a piece of information in the headmaster’s office. It is a brilliantly executed scene because it essentially implies, at least partly, why adult Turing has ended up the way he is—often relying on his mind as a ready-made weapon and his proclivity against becoming close to another human being. We are looking at a child with a gift—but one with a difficult life ahead of him. Rich scenes like this makes the film, loosely based on “Alan Turing: The Enigma” by Andrew Hodges, very much worth seeing.

Begin Again


Begin Again (2014)
★ / ★★★★

John Carney’s “Begin Again” needs to go back to basics and simply tell its story straight without the unnecessary gimmicks such as flashbacks that comprise of about fifty percent of the first half and showcasing overproduced songs that are supposedly performed live. I found it exhausting because it tries so hard to be authentic but it comes across very superficial and often in the doldrums with respect to pacing and overall mood.

Gretta (Keira Knightley) is approached by Dan (Mark Ruffalo), a former head of a record company, after singing in front of an audience whose reaction is lukewarm at best. Dan sees potential in her; he thinks she just needs to change her image a bit so people will find it easier to relate to her and her music. But Gretta is not interested in being signed because she wishes to be recognized for her talent, not the image she is selling. Eventually, however, the two find a common ground and decide to make a record.

Knightley and Ruffalo share absolutely no chemistry. Over the course of the two characters working together, there is supposed to be a whiff of friendship and possible romance blossoming between them, but neither connect in such a way that we feel, deep down, they are kindred spirits. The scenes that do work somewhat are short exchanges where Gretta and Dan disagree and create friction. However, these are supposed to be “mature” people and so an argument ends just before the scene ends.

A subplot involving Dan’s wife (Catherine Keener) and daughter (Hailee Steinfeld) is a minefield of boredom. Keener’s character is written to be as dull as possible. Meanwhile, Steinfeld’s character is not given anything to do other than to look sort of moody and hormonal—a stereotypical movie teenager—while wearing skimpy clothing. Surely Keener could have signed up for a project that is equal to her talent. I was more disappointed, however, that Steinfeld chose this role because she is usually pretty good at selecting characters with substance to them.

I will not even begin to describe the contrivance of Adam Levine’s character who starts off as a humble artist and becomes a complete jerk—all within a span of a month. As with Ruffalo, Knightley shares no genuine connection with Levine and so when their characters are supposed to be bonding, sharing things with one another, or having fun, it appears completely disingenuous. To me, their relationship is one that exists only in the movies.

I did not enjoy the songs—with the exception of “A Step You Can’t Take Back,” the first track featured in the film. The rest of the soundtrack is nothing special, most of them sound exactly like other female singer-songwriters on MySpace trying to break into the music industry. Because of this, we are never on board that Gretta is truly an undiscovered diamond who should become the next big thing.

“Begin Again” is largely unfocused and quite depressing in spots—not because of the content but because the work should have been more alive, executed with a sense of urgency, capturing that excitement of introducing an artist that the world should know about. Instead, what we are given is sub-mediocrity packaged in a dull box with the writer-director’s name written on the tag.

The Edge of Love


The Edge of Love (2008)
★★ / ★★★★

Poet Dylan Thomas (Matthew Ryhs) makes a living writing scripts for the government during World War II. When not at work, he enjoys spending time with a childhood friend, Vera (Keira Knightley), a singer, in a bar, drinking, flirting, and chain smoking. When Dylan’s wife, Caitlin (Sienna Miller), pays him a visit, she suspects that he might be having an affair. Meanwhile, William (Cillian Murphy), a soldier, admires Vera’s beauty and elegance from afar.

Based on a true story, “The Edge of Love,” written by Sharman Macdonald, works more like a commercial for things to do to distract oneself during a war rather than embodying a focused and engaging story about a poet with a yearning to contribute his talent. The first half seems to be about the glamour of being free and not having to be responsible. Everything glows beautifully, from Vera’s hair as she entertains the bar’s customers to the alcohol-filled glasses being handed to those who wish to escape the horrible and traumatizing realities of the outside world.

I enjoyed deciphering the relationship among Dylan, Vera, and Caitlin. While too apparent push and pull forces are present between the two women, they are marginally interesting because the performers play upon a certain level of mystique. A kind of friendship is built upon what could have been jealousy or rivalry. By the end, it can be argued that what they come to share is the only true and lasting element in the film.

There are amusing moments when Dylan believes he is the center of attention—so seemingly adored by the women in his life—but he fails to realize that at times he is being made fun of for his tomfoolery. Somewhere in the middle, however, the picture is stripped off of its glamour. This is the point where we expect Dylan’s story to move front and center so we can understand how his mind works, his specific motivations, how much he values his partner, the children that they have, and the war that threatens to destroy everything.

It is disappointing because the screenplay comes across as reluctant to really delve into the darker side of his relationships. Tragic things happen but more than half are so out of context, sometimes I found myself confused and was forced to think back to the film’s common threads and themes in order to try to make sense what had just transpired. The lack of clarity in terms of presenting events in a logical way is problematic because instead of being invested in the emotions and psychology of the drama as well as anticipating what might happen, I spent ample time looking back.

While the women’s story held my interest, especially at the point when they are forced to evaluate their worth in their men’s lives as well as a possible attraction between the two of them, I wondered why Dylan is missing from the frame for extended amount of time. When he is finally shown, the picture fails to provide dimension. We see him drinking, looking sad, and acting cranky but we are not given a full understanding of him after the partying and fun times have come and gone. So when he makes critical decisions pertaining to another character near the end, it comes across more random than shocking. Since we never get to know Dylan as a person, his emotions and actions lack depth and resonance.

Directed by John Maybury, if “The Edge of Love” were a fashion video, it would be a success. It inspires us to look at the intricate details of the clothes and how the actors carry off the looks. However, as a peek into a time period in Dylan Thomas’ life, a poet of whom I had no knowledge of, it is quite uninformative.

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit


Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014)
★★ / ★★★★

When Jack Ryan (Chris Pine) was a Ph.D. student in London, he witnessed the 9/11 attacks on television. This inspired him to join the Marines two years later but a missile aimed at the helicopter he was riding sent him to the hospital for eight months. There, a man who works for the CIA, Thomas Harper (Kevin Costner), approaches him, clearly impressed by Jack’s background, and insists that he finishes his doctorate because upon doing so, an undercover financial analyst position will be waiting for him.

Criticisms that the picture comes off bland as a whole, especially since the protagonist is based on a character created by the highly respected novelist Tom Clancy, are not entirely unsound. While it is comprised of familiar elements from variety of espionage thrillers, it remains somewhat enjoyable nonetheless because it exercises restraint for the most part: It is not one of those techno-thrillers where the gadgets and booming soundtrack eclipse the thrills. Although computers are used, the material is old-fashioned in that the script tries to get us to care about Jack as a person first and a government agent second. Note, however, that the key word is “tries.”

Part of the problem when it comes to presenting Jack’s personal life is the casting. I was not convinced that Keira Knightley, Jack’s girlfriend for more or less a decade, exudes enough warmth for us to see why the title character is in love with her. While Knightley is convincing in playing a brilliant doctor, whenever she tries to be soft or accessible, the soft voice combined with a look of nagging desperation is too much of a performance. I did not see a character; I saw an actress trying to play a role that is not a good fit for her. Also, Pine and Knightley look very appealing on their own but when their characters are together, especially when expressing how much they care for one another, there is no sensuality or sexuality that radiates.

An avenue that should have been explored more is the relationship between Jack and the CIA specialist that gave the former a chance to become somebody. Scenes where Harper protects Jack from a distance might have held more weight if we felt as though Harper is preventing harm to someone he feels close to rather than just another agent who had to be protected because it is his job. Costner is a good actor and I wished that the material had given him more to do other than to look stern and patriotic.

I liked the Jack Ryan in the first half. The first major hand-to-hand combat takes place in a posh hotel and we are able to see quite clearly that our protagonist is not a fighter—at least not like Ethan Hunt in the “Mission: Impossible” series. Jack can fight physically because of his stint in the Marines but his inexperience shows. His intelligence is the first weapon of choice. The director, Kenneth Branagh, who also has a key role in the film, is wise to include shots of our hero’s face during the kinetic mano y mano because it shows him thinking what he might to do next to overcome his sizable opponent.

When the second half comes around, however, Jack Ryan becomes an action star. The car chase across Moscow and the motorcycle sequence in New York City do not work because what is front and center is not consistent with the man that we have come to know. One gets the impression that the writers, Adam Cozad and David Koepp, did not have enough inspiration to have concocted a more believable way to present the climax and resulting denouements.

“Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” offers some good entertainment but it does not leave any sort of lasting impression. With so many movies of its type that are coming out and have come out, it is important to stand above most of them and show to the audience why this story is special and ultimately worth telling.

A Dangerous Method


A Dangerous Method (2011)
★★ / ★★★★

A hysterical woman, Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley), is taken by horse carriage to the clinic of Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender), hoping to be cured of her mental affliction. Psychoanalysis, though popularized by Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen), is not yet considered an official form of treatment. By taking careful notes of Spielrein’s verbal accounts and eventual behavioral changes while using psychoanalysis, Jung and Freud become optimistic that psychologists will learn to embrace the value of the new concept.

“A Dangerous Method,” directed by David Cronenberg, aims to balance the science that contributed to the commercialism of psychoanalysis, the affair between Jung and Spielrein, and the professional chasm between Jung and Freud, but the picture fails to excel in any of them. Though the subjects are alluring on the surface, they do not have enough details. As a result, watching the picture is like reading a textbook that offers nothing but summaries.

Christopher Hampton’s screenplay only touches upon the various relationships superficially. For instance, while there are about three or four scenes where Jung sits about a foot behind Spielrein and asks her questions about her childhood and the point when she has come to discover her sexuality, the filmmakers’ decision to jump forward in time—several times and without warning—is, to say the least, careless. The picture inadvertently makes it look like psychoanalysis is a magical panacea. I was afraid that people who may not have a background in psychology would watch the film and assume that psychoanalysis itself is an effective cure. It is not.

Psychoanalysis, broadly speaking, is a form of treatment—one that is not universally accepted by many professionals back then or nowadays. It is accompanied by other techniques but it is not a cure. For some, it works; for others, it does not.

The film might have benefited from highlighting the flaws and intricacies of Jung and Freud’s methods, like not having a big enough sample size, instead of simply dropping a slab of answers on our plate and expecting everyone to know what makes a good scientific method. Jung and Spielrein’s relationship is mildly interesting, reaching high points when the camera zooms toward Spielrein’s face and she looks as if she is about to regress to her scary hysteria every time her advances are shut down.

Knightley does a wonderful job in playing a woman who is out of control. The way she contorts her lower mandible, accompanied by a barrage of ticks, made me feel very uncomfortable. On the other hand, there are times when I sensed that Fassbender is trying too hard in illustrating personal, romantic, and professional betrayal. While it is ultimately up to him to balance the subtle emotions, the screenplay is equally at fault since it does not spend adequate time in exploring each angle it pursues in order to provide necessary support for the story and the performers. Lastly, while Mortensen is successful in portraying Freud’s confidence and arrogance, we do not discover much about the character. The screenplay assumes we already know Freud, what he represents, and why he remains to be an iconic figure.

“A Dangerous Method” is relatively dry in tone and mood. It makes a lot of assumptions. Halfway through, I wondered if we were all better off reading a more informative book about Spielrein, Jung, and Freud in a library instead of having to sit through tired melodrama being stacked together like pancakes.

Last Night


Last Night (2010)
★ / ★★★★

Joanna (Keira Knightley) and Michael (Sam Worthington), a married couple, attended a party but it didn’t go so well. When they got back to their apartment, because of a look Joanna caught across the room, she accused Michael of cheating with his beautiful co-worker named Laura (Eva Mendes). Michael insisted that absolutely nothing happened. The situation wasn’t alleviated by the fact that Michael had to leave on a business trip with Laura the next day. Meanwhile, Joanna bumped into Alex (Guillaume Canet), a former flame from two years ago when Joanna and Michael took a break from their relationship. “Last Night,” earnestly written and directed by Massy Tadjedin, could have been more involving if it had strived to make its protagonists less like caricatures and more like characters capable of defying our expectations. Joanna was written as nagging and paranoid while Michael was stoic and single-minded. We were supposed to relate to these characters but we were given too few reasons to do so. Joanna and Michael were each assigned a box and were not allowed to step out of it which made the experience lacking in flavor and color. One way or another we’ve felt some sort of physical attraction to another person despite being in a serious relationship. However, I found the whole charade both sexist and insulting. The impression I got was cheating equated to physical intimacy with another person. But we all know cheating isn’t just physical. In dramatic pictures, this film being a good example, it’s a problem when we are smarter than what we are watching because we end up feeling less involved or less connected to the characters who are supposedly going through a grueling trial. In any case, physical intimacy, not emotional entanglement, was at the material’s forefront because each scene thrived on questions like “Will she kiss him?” and “Will he have sex with her?” While such questions were legitimate, the physical aspect alone was only half of the equation. I wanted it to compel us to ask questions like what was going on in Joanna’s brain when Alex placed his hand so sensually on her leg, one of the many perfect opportunities for the the writer-director to playe with the film’s tone which was too dour, verging on soporific. When Alex invited Joanna to his room and revealed a second later that he was simply joking, I would have loved to have seen the disappointment in Joanna’s eyes when she learned that the possible attraction that she detected from him turned out to be false. Maybe she ought to have said a joke in return because in reality there are times when pain is nicely wrapped in jest. But the camera failed to make a personal connection with her reactions. We were left to observe at the distance. Furthermore, there was a lack of flow in cutting from one scene to another. Just when a scene reached a climax, the tension was disturbed because we were forced to look at another less interesting scene. Sometimes allowing the camera to linger, even if the conversation had gone stale, could highlight what was really going on underneath shaky formalities and confessions long overdue. “Last Night” felt superficial and at times sitcom-like in its view or treatment of infidelity. While beautifully shot, especially scenes that took place outside at night, its inside felt hollow.