Tag Archives: Ben Mendelsohn

Joel Schumacher’s Trespass

Joel Schumacher used to be a household name amongst Hollywood directors, and then kind of sailed off the face of the map (Coppola seems to have done the same). He was one of the most prolific filmmakers of the 80’s and 90’s and then it cooled off in recent years, but he still churns out a flick or three now and again, one of which is the high gloss home invasion thriller Trespass. It’s in the vein of Cimino’s Desperate Hours, not just for having an almost identical premise but also for the fact that it’s not a great movie, but one that services the genre nicely, gives the crowd just what they’d expect from this fare and even throws in a few earned surprises. Nicolas Cage and Nicole Kidman play a wealthy couple who live in a fortress of a house that comes under siege from three rabid criminals who are after… something. Is it the alleged diamonds in Cage’s impenetrable safe? Is it the money he claims is all gone or stuck into his lavish home? Or is something darker at stake here? The guessing game that ensues is pretty well done, with perspective flashbacks and red herrings used nicely. The burglars are played by a quartet of the excellent Ben Mendelsohn who give yet another sketchy, terrifying villain portrait, fondly remembered TV actress Jordana Spiro, The always reliable Dash Mihok and Cam Gigandet, who sadly keeps getting casted in stuff way beyond his talent level. His psycho/pretty boy role here is one of the most demanding parts in the script and the guy just doesn’t have anything under the hood except for his looks (see Pandorum for another painful case of him ruining a well written role). Kidman is wistful and scared, doing the same thing she did in Dead Calm without the cold resilience, while Cage does crazy to a T, no surprise there. I heard that midway through filming he suddenly wanted to switch to one of the villain roles, and didn’t get his way. I laughed upon hearing him bellow out ‘shit-hole’ in that maniacally screechy, petulant way of his and I pictured him having a tantrum at the producers for not giving in. This is a humdrum flick that isn’t built to last or make huge impressions, but it serves as an energetic, well mounted domestic siege thriller with enough violence and commotion to keep eyelids from dropping.

-Nate Hill

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33rd Santa Barbara International Film Festival Podcast

SBIFF 2018

It’s time again for our annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival podcast! Frank and Tim recap Frank’s journey this year at the festival, including seeing Emilio Estevez’s new film, ‘the public’ and Susan Kucera’s LIVING IN FUTURE PAST which was presented and narrated by Santa Barbara’s own Jeff Bridges. This year, Frank’s red carpet interviews included on this podcast are with Executive Director of the festival Roger Durling, Gary Oldman, producer Doug Urbanski, Willem Dafoe, Emilio Estevez, Martin Sheen, Leonard Maltin, Academy Award-nominated editor of I, TONYA Tatiana Riegel, Academy Award-nominated VFX supervisor of BLADE RUNNER 2049 John Nelson, Academy Award-nominated sound editor of THE LAST JEDI Matthew Wood, GET OUT’s Daniel Kaluuya, Jordan Peele, Guillermo del Toro, and lastly Frank talking to Ben Mendelsohn about Podcasting Them Softly’s namesake, KILLING THEM SOFTLY.

SBIFF Maltin Modern Master Awards Gary Oldman

Gary Oldman is charming. He’s effortless and he’s incredibly affable, which is a stark contrast to many of the prickly characters he’s most well known for playing. He spoke with Leonard Maltin for a little under two hours before the dapper and coarse Ben Mendelsohn presented him with the Maltin Modern Master Award.

Oldman said it was seeing Malcom McDowell in THE RAGING MOON that lit the burning desire for him to pursue a career in acting, which led to Oldman being turned down by a premiere drama school in England where a lot of the greats had studied, including Peter O’Toole.

Oldman spoke about how he fanboy gushed over John Hurt while working with him on TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY, Anthony Hopkins during the filming of DRACULA, and over Denzel Washington while working with him on the set of THE BOOK OF ELI.

A very charming moment in the show was when Maltin showed a clip from a Harry Potter film, and Oldman went on to speak about his fondness for the young co-stars he worked with and how they were like a family, and he watched them grow up over the course of ten years. It was a very special period of his career for him, stating that his fanbase went from forty year olds to ten year olds overnight.

During the filming of BATMAN BEGINS, Oldman attributed James Gordon’s world weariness to jetlag, due to the fact that he was flying from LA to England a day or two at a time to film his scenes, not staying on set due to the fact of being a single dad and raising his two young sons.

Maltin asked Oldman about his character of George Smiley, and asked if he would be playing him again. He responded with an almost certain yes, telling Maltin that he really loved playing Smiley, and missed that character dearly. Asked about his preparation for Smiley, Oldman said that he was overly particular on the glasses his character would be wearing, and that he tried on at least one hundred pairs before settling on the pair that was used in the film.

When asked about his many accents he’s used, from Dracula to Churchill, Oldman said he uses not a voice coach, but an opera singer to condition his voice to drop or gain octivs, and once he is done filming said character he essentially unlearns how to speak that way, saying it’s like a muscle and that he can no longer recreate the Dracula voice or his Churchill voice on command.

Ben Mendelsohn was there to present Oldman with the Maltin Modern Master Award once the Q&A was finished. Mendelsohn gave a speech only he could give with his token outback roughness and lewd wit, speaking of Oldman’s many masterpiece performances and how he is one of his idols.

Gary Oldman is a cinematic treasure. He has crisscrossed many aspect of film from hard independent pictures, genre films, as well megabudget franchises. His latest turn as Winston Churchill in Joe Wright’s DARKEST HOUR will surely award him the Best Actor Oscar, which for a performer like Oldman an Academy Award is long overdue.

Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises

Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises faced a tricky maneuver: providing a follow up to the earth shattering, delirious success that was 2008’s The Dark Knight. The film was never going to be as good as or better than that lightning in a bottle stroke of genius. However, the film we did get is one epic, operatic sonic boom of a Batman film, and if there’s one area where it does in fact outdo The Dark Knight, it’s in scope. The action set pieces here have an earth shattering, monumental quality to them, mainly thanks to Tom Hardy’s Bane, a full on monster who brings biblical destruction to Gotham City with some calculated, maximum impact attacks that almost blow the speakers of any system they’re shown on. Despite the apocalyptic blitzkrieg, Nolan loses none of that precious philosophy that has made this franchise glow so far, the sharp-as-a-tack dialogue and moral complexities of existing in a world of vigilantes and terrorists. It’s been eight years in Gotham since Batman took down the Joker and, somewhat controversially, the fallen angel that was Harvey Dent. Bruce Wayne has become a crippled recluse while the city more or less flourishes quietly, but there’s nothing that’ll roust a burg out of tranquil slumber like the arrival of a seven foot tall, highly trained psychopath bent on chaos. In a vertigo inducing opener set atop the clouds, Bane triumphantly crashes a CIA aircraft and makes off with its cargo, a mere taste of his brutality to come. Bruce is forced out of hiding to do battle with him, and before you know it they’re all thundering around Gotham’s tunnels and edifices, pursued by hordes of snarky GCPD, who no doubt have missed this kind of action for a near decade. The new commissioner (Matthew Modine) is a hotheaded nimrod, while Gordon (Gary Oldman, the gravitas is real with this guy) still hurts from the tragedy years before. Anne Hathaway throws a wicked curveball of a performance as Selina ‘Catwoman’ Kyle, and although no one will ever, *ever* top Michelle Pfeiffer’s brilliantly kinky turn years before, she’s a deadly force to be reckoned with both for Bruce and the criminal factions vying for power. Hathaway seems like a sanitized choice for the cat, but she’s deft, sexy, formidable, competent and looks damn good in that outfit careening around on Bruce’s batbike. Marion Cotillard is great as the mysterious Miranda Tate who may be more dangerous than she seems, a shtick which Cotillard unnervingly perfected first in Inception. Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine are top notch as Alfred and Lucius once again, Ben Mendelsohn plays up a sleazy business rival for Bruce, Juno Temple is cute as Selina’s off again, on again lover, Joseph Gordon Levitt’s intrepid detective gets a whole lot of plot momentum and crazy good dialogue, and the jaw dropping lineup of supporting work includes Brett Cullen, Burn Gorman, Desmond Harrington, Chris Ellis, Robert Wisdom, Tomas Arana, Aiden Gillen, Brent Briscoe, William Devane, Nestor Carbonell, Reggie Lee, Wade Williams, Christopher Judge, a brief reprisal from Liam Neeson and Cillian Murphy as that pesky Scarecrow, the only villain who appears in all three films. The story goes to places the other two films never ascended to, and if the Joker thought his antics aspired to anarchy, he’d do flips when Bane literally starts blowing up the city on a massive scale, an extended sequence that’s delirious in it’s armageddon worthy panic. On a more personal scale, Batman deals with being broken, the cost he must pay to ultimately save his city, and the unknowable matter of when to cash out as a superhero, or forever give up your soul to a fight that has neither end nor reason. My only issue with the story is how a certain third act revelation pretty much neuters Bane’s character arc and renders his whole fearsome nature somewhat too human and redundant when all is said and done, it’s a narrative decision Nolan should examine closely for his own sake, and avoid such an impotent cop-out when writing his next arch villain. The cinematography is aces, the cgi blending seamless, Hans Zimmer’s score gives us the classic thunderstorm passages we’ve come to love while adding a rhythmic chanting for further depth and flavour. There’s not much that can be said that’s negative about the film, it’s one hell of an achievement and doesn’t let up until the Big Bang of an ending provides release for the franchise and every character in it, an expository epilogue in which loose ends are tied, and some semblance of peace is found. A near perfect third act to the trilogy, and a superhero flick for the ages.

-Nate Hill

“If you ride like lightning, you’re gonna crash like thunder.” – A review of The Place Beyond The Pines by Josh Hains

As the opening title, “A film by Derek Cianfrance”, dissipates, a breath is drawn followed by the clinking of an angel knife as Ryan Gosling’s Luke Glanton menacingly opens and closes it, his abs glowing in the dimly lit room, his body battered with tattoos as the sounds of people, rides and games emit from outside his small trailer. He’s told it’s showtime by an outside authority, jamming the knife overhand into a wall before picking up his shirt and red jacket and slipping out the door, putting them both on as he traverses the crowd until he reaches a large tent boasting The Globe Of Death. He walks with the swagger of James Dean as he enters the tent to cheers and cries of excitement from fans alike as he and two fellow riders known only as The Heart Throbs gear up on their motorcycles and glide into the deadly spherical cage. Engines roar and fans scream as Handsome Luke and The Heart Throbs dizzyingly ride their motorcycles loop de loop until the screen fades to Luke signing autographs. And to think, that was all done in one take.

The Place Beyond The Pines is a beautifully brooding, tragic, heartbreakingly powerful, and ambitious genre film about fathers and sons, legacy, and consequences. Luke Glanton (Gosling), a daredevil carnival motorcycle rider finds out former fling Romina (Eva Mendes), a local waitress and fan of Luke’s skills, recently had their son, Jason after their last fling. Much to her surprise, he quits his job in the hopes that he can concoct a relationship with the infant and her too, even though she has a new, responsible man in her life by the name of Kofi (Mahershala Ali, in an understated role).

Luke is irresponsible, impulsive, tattooed all to hell and prone to outbursts of violence. Things only get complicated once he meets Robin Van Der Zee (Ben Mendelsohn), a grubby mechanic who hires him after witnessing his outstanding skills on the motorcycle. He suggests that Luke rob banks, Robin himself having robbed banks years earlier, and Luke, in need of quick cash to support his son, opts to do just that. As time marches on the risks get higher and the cash comes thicker during riveting, manic heists and intense and stunningly realistic getaways; until Robin suddenly balks, leaving Luke to sloppily rob a bank and subsequently get chased across town on his motorcycle. The breathtaking chase leads Luke to a violent confrontation with Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper), a young police officer and son of a well respected judge.

After his confrontation with Luke, Avery begins to question his actions during the encounter as fellow officers headed by Pete Deluca (the always intimidating Ray Liotta, in full-on bad cop mode) engage in thuggish, corrupt behaviour which begins to take its toll on Avery and his family life as the father to a newborn son and husband to a fearful wife.

Skip ahead 15 years and Avery is running for public office, as his and Luke’s respective sons Jason (Dane DeHaan) and A.J. (Emory Cohen) begin a tumultuous and troubling friendship. I have to stop there, as any more details about the film will surely spoil what is undoubtedly a surprising film.

Luke’s story takes up the first 45-60 minutes, and is the best of the three stories in this triptych film; a deep, emotional roller-coaster that follows Luke as he struggles to provide for his newborn son. The heists are crisp, increasingly sloppy and volatile, brimming with an underlying intensity and fiery rawness. When he robs, he angrily squeals and shrieks his commands, grabbing the closest person to him as leverage until he has the money. When he rides, it’s as if you’re right there with him; the roar of the engine thundering through the air as he speeds down twisting roads into Robin’s cube truck.

Ryan Gosling as the violent, troubled Luke Glanton is mesmerizing, delivering his best performance since 2010’s Blue Valentine (which marked his first collaboration with this film’s director Derek Cianfrance), and surely one for the Oscar nomination list. He doesn’t say much which draws comparison to his eerie role as The Driver in 2011’s Drive, his eyes and facial expressions exuding Luke’s restrained and ominous personality in the same brooding manner as he did in Drive. He also has a vehicular skill, this time motorcycles and not cars, but that’s about where the comparisons stop. Where Driver felt like a caricature, or a fantastical vigilante ripped from a ludicrous dream, Luke feels, and very much so is, a genuine, authentic and honest portrayal of a man struggling to leave a strong imprint in his son’s life while dealing with his own inner, violent demons. He holds honest intentions, but is far too explosive and violent for the life he quietly yearns for.

Eva Mendes is at her quiet best here as Romina, giving an heartfelt and touching portrayal of a mother trying to do what’s right for her son, which may or may not always be the best of decisions. Ben Mendelsohn (of Animal Kingdom, The Dark Knight Rises and Killing Them Softly fame) yet again find a rhythm for playing the greasy, twitchy mechanic and Luke’s only friend Robin. His ability to slip into these scuzzy roles is fantastic, as he once again delivers a magnetic performance.

The second story that follows Avery post-Luke encounter runs for about the same length as the first section, as does the last section. The film seamlessly weaves between the sections, pausing only for a moment with a black screen as if to let us breathe before it catapults us into Avery’s battle for survival in the world of policing. The story presents itself much like a cop film from the ‘70’s, something the likes of William Friedkin or Francis Ford Coppola would have sunk their teeth deep into. Bradley Cooper is fantastic in this act, quickly taking the reins of the film as the torch gets passed along, proving once again that most audiences have underestimated his acting prowess in the past despite the complexity of his most recent roles. Ray Liotta as Pete Deluca, a corrupt veteran officer, is at his menacing best, and Rose Byrne (Jennifer, Avery’s wife), Harris Yulin (as Avery’s judge father Al) and Bruce Greenwood as slippery lawyer Bill Killcullen all deliver with quiet, small roles with actions that echo a lifetime.

I won’t go too deep into the final act, but I will say that Dane DeHaan is one to watch, one-upping his co-star Emory Cohen as Luke’s estranged son Jason, matching pound for pound the intensity delivered by the more seasoned actors in the film. Emory is convincing as the drug-addled interpretation of MTV styled behaviour infused into Avery’s son A.J.

The latter two stories following Avery post-confrontation, and later their respective sons, are thoroughly engaging, edgy and potent, but are intentionally not as electrifying as Luke’s daredevil lifestyle portion of the film. Luke’s story is one electric scene after another, each as haunting and memorable as the last until his story ends, when the film slows down to give us a deep insight into the lives of police officers and their family, and the ramifications of the violence and corrupt actions committed in the first story; each scene for the 140 minute running time never failing to captivate your eyes and mind. Despite how well acted the last two chapters of the film are, one can’t help but feel underwhelmed by them both after the volatile, quick paced first act.

This is a powerhouse, haunting, Shakespeare-esque cinematic experience of a lifetime. Derek Cianfrance, the director behind Blue Valentine and the largely unseen Brother Tied gives us his best film here, an honest tale of fathers and sons, violence and its impacts, actions and their consequences. He gets the absolute most of of his actors, no matter how big or small the role, with relative ease it seems. As stated in several dozen interviews, many of the scenes are genuine, featuring real actions from his actors during rehearsals, or spontaneous behaviours from them as filing was occurring, which helps push the realistic, honest and authentic nature of this film to greater heights. The violence is quick and bloody, but never stylized or gimmicky, instead remaining true to the speed and ferocity of real violence one would see in a Sunday night instalment of World’s Wildest Police Chases, which Derek himself said inspired the realism of this film. Mike Patton’s thrilling score greatly enhances each scene, never becoming overbearing or underused.

While Blue Valentine was a small scaled romantic tragedy, The Place Beyond The Pines is on a much larger playing field as it spans its 15 plus years, giving us a sweeping genre epic that stands an equal among similar father-son consequential films such as The Godfather. Derek Cianfrance once again shows us he’s a masterclass in filmmaking, delivering what will surely be the year’s best dramatic film. This is filmmaking from the pelvis by Cianfrance that grabs you by the throat and never lets go until the final, heartbreaking frames contrasted with Bon Iver’s ‘The Wolves’; this, is one hell of a film, and among the best of its year of release. As this epic tale of fathers, sons, and consequences rides off into the morning sunrise, its grip will loosen just enough to leave you breathless in its powerful wake.

 

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story by Ben Cahlamer

War.  Over the course of our history, we justify war to obtain that which we might not have access to, but need to survive.  In the eyes of others, we use war to protect the few resources we have from others. In the end, the more motivated group will overcome the meek.  For those standing up because it is right, it doesn’t mean that we must always bow down to the pressures of the powerful.  Sometimes, we find enough courage and conviction within our own morals to rightfully take back that which has been usurped. This is the basis for Gareth Edwards’ newest, but flawed entry into the Star Wars universe, “Rogue One”.

Word has reached the Rebellion that a cargo pilot defected with a message indicating the presence of a planet-killing weapon being developed by Imperial forces.  Wanting to authenticate the message, Gyn Erso (Felicity Jones) is coaxed into helping the Rebellion.  Joined by Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), they ultimately undertake a risky mission to retrieve the plans for this weapon.

The story, written by John Knoll and Gary Whitta (“After Earth”, “The Book of Eli”); screenplay by Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy (the “Bourne” series)  is fun, but ultimately flawed as it tries to develop new characters while remaining relate able to the existing universe.

It was evident that the intention was to create a dark, espionage-style thriller within two threads:  the first to assemble the team, while the second to actually commit the deed.  The challenge is that the story starts off so slowly and disjointedly that by the time we get to the second, more impressive hour, we simply shouldn’t care.  The story does tie up its own loose ends, but it also creates more problems than it actually solves.

The characters service the script effectively.  However, the majority of the character’s motives were demurred by the action-oriented narrative.  Felicity Jones’ Gyn clashed with Diego Luna’s Cassian Andor.  Although their backgrounds are not similar, they do ultimately share the same path.  It isn’t until the second hour that we see Gyn become a leader.  Mads Mikkelson’s Galen was sharp; his purpose clear and he was able to parlay with Ben Mendelsohn’s Orson Krennic:  their egos each got the better of them, but their paths and functions were also very clear.  Donnie Yen’s Chirrut Imwe is a fun character, his presence a welcome, if sometimes irritating diversion while Jiang Wen’s Bazel Malbus looked stellar on the screen, but his purpose was ill-defined.  Although he grew the most and had the most to lose, Riz Ahmed’s Bodhi Rook was the most essential of the supporting characters.  Forest Whitaker always looks great on screen, however here his character only serves as a bridge and ultimately, an ineffective bridge between the first and second acts, and while the levity was welcome, Alan Tudyk’s K2SO was a bit over the top becoming repetitive, even in the third act.

Fortunately, the wizards behind the camera truly work their wonders in most quarters.  Costume Designers David Crossman and Glyn Dillon effectively bring us back into the Star Wars universe as does Doug Chaing and Neil Lamont’s stellar production design.

From the stages of Pinewood Studios outside London to multiple locations spanning Iceland, Maldives and Jordan, cinematographer Greig Fraser (“Zero Dark Thirty”, “Foxcatcher”, “Lion”) really stood up to the challenges in front of him, giving the film the visual grittiness it needed while conveying the timeless sense of the space battles that have come to be a trademark of the Star Wars universe.  In a key scene, Fraser’s use of lighting serves to throw off the viewer just enough to allow the special effects technicians to do their magic making the scene that much more effective.

Continuing in the grand tradition of delivering a visual impact, Industrial Light & Magic’s work on “Rogue One” is, without exception, the highlight of the movie.  From traditional model effects work to CGI landscapes, John Knoll, who also served as one of the film’s executive producers, was up to the task.  Without going into too much detail, he and the talented folks at Scanline, Hybride, The Third Floor and Disney Research are to be commended in the look and feel of the movie.

Michael Giacchino provided a more militaristic score, using some of John Williams’ existing themes while largely creating new music for this adventure, which works effectively.

As brilliant as the technicians behind the scenes were, editorially, the pacing and tone of the movie fell flat.  It took no less than three credited editors, John Gilroy, Colin Goudie and Jabez Olssen to bring the full narrative into its final form.  In a slightly lesser role, Stuart Baird was brought in to massage it even further.  Where the script narratively fumbled, the editing could not recover it fully, washing out characters and moments.

“Rogue One” brings together two separate parts of the Star Wars universe in an interesting and diverse way.  Its darker tone is welcome however the jumbled narrative and editing bring it crashing down.  Despite it being fun, its flaws are too numerous.  It is Recommended.

Ben Cahlamer, an aspiring film critic, is a new contributor to podcasting them softly.  Although he spends his time helping hotels to price their rooms, he appreciates the finer nuances of films.  He has been an avid Star Wars fan since he was born, having seen Return of the Jedi on the big screen three times in 1983 and continues to look forward to the future.

STAR WARS POWERCAST EPISODE III

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ATTENTION SPOILERS.  SPOILERS.  SPOILERS.  Frank and Tim FINALLY did another STAR WARS podcast.  This time we speak about the new standalone film, ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY.  We dive in deep about the emotional impact, the cinematic influences, and where Disney takes the STAR WARS brand from here!