Tag Archives: Ralph Fiennes

Fernando Meirelles The Constant Gardener

Fernando Meirelles’s The Constant Gardener is a film you just can’t get enough viewings of, it’s such a dense, sumptuous and emotionally complex piece that each revisit rewards with new angles on story, perspectives on character motivation and comprehension of subtle, hazy moments in the performances that you didn’t pick up the first few times because the visual element just overwhelms you at first. This is a cool flick for me because it’s based on a book by John Le Carré, a spy novelist whose work I often find too dry and lacking in warmth, but not here, I saw this during it’s theatrical run way back when and have loved and felt connected to it ever since. It doesn’t hurt that it stars Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz, two of the most intuitive, brilliant performers of their generation, and if there’s a duo who could do justice to a story like this, it’s them. Fiennes plays Justin, a reserved, introverted diplomat in Africa. Weisz is his wife Tessa, a fiery, outgoing humanitarian worker. They couldn’t be more opposite, as we later learn through fragmented flashbacks, but the film throws us in the deep end by telling us right off the bat that Tessa has been murdered. So begins an elliptical mystery shrouded in a poignant love story, a conspiracy thriller that uncoils patiently, each clue spreading the seeds for ten more. Tessa was working in the field researching the actions of drug companies in this third world region, she may have been having an affair, and she was pregnant. The stakes couldn’t be higher, but so is the risk for Justin to become too entrenched in a quagmire of lies, red herrings and dead end crossroads, and, just like Tessa, lose his way. Who really knows what’s going on in such a chaotic part of the world? Does Pellegrino (Bill Nighy) the mysterious CEO of big pharma? Perhaps Sandy (Danny Huston) Tessa’s friend from the embassy? Or is it Dr. Lorbeer (Pete Postlethwaite, excellent in the haunting third act), an elusive aids worker, who holds the secret to her death? It’s not easy resolution this film is interested in, but rather overturning more stones that lead to more mysteries until one feels wonderfully beguiled, a true sign that script and edit are firing on all cylinders. Many things are hinted at, including whether or not the drug companies are illegally testing non FDA approved prototypes on poverty stricken locals under the guise of medicine, which seems just scary enough to be true. The film dangles answers just out of reach, and even in the eerie eleventh hour where Justin finds himself stranded in a desolate plane of Africa, you get the sense that the resolutions he comes too are only the half of it, if that. Meirelles also directed City Of God, another film set in an unfortunate area of the world, he brings a jagged, splintered perception to the editing and narrative, a perfect garnish to the already impenetrable nature of Le Carré’s literary work. Cinematographer Cesar Charlone (also responsible for City Of God) films with elemental grace and captures the light brilliantly. Weisz and Fiennes bring out humanity in Le Carré’s work that he probably didn’t even know was there, and are beacons in a weathered storm of indifference and injustice. Not an easy film to absorb, but what it withholds in straightforwardness (which is a plus quality in my books anyways) it makes up for in beauty, mystery and nuance. One of the best films of the last few decades.

-Nate Hill

Advertisements

David Cronenberg’s Spider 


David Cronenberg’s Spider is a prickly, unsettling plunge into the frays of mental illness with all the subtleties of a bad dream whose source is hard to pin down. As a disoriented, emotionally shellshocked Ralph Fiennes shambles into a residency at a halfway house in London, he’s reminded of the past, and begins to brush away layers of cobwebs that hide more than a few nasty secrets from his upbringing. Raised by his wayward father (Gabriel Byrne) and haughty mother (Miranda Richardson, also showing up in a dual role), Spider, as she nicknamed him, began to lose his grip on reality at a very young age, resulting in an eerie tragedy. Or did it? That’s the key to Cronenberg’s vision here, the kind of blood chilling uncertainty that one sees a mentally ill person struggle through. Spider’s grip on the past, and his own present coherency is as tenuous as the lingering webs that gild both his memory, as well as the shrouded nooks and crannies of the desolate borough of London he aimlessly shuffles through, the empty rooms and lived-in corridors of his childhood home practically mirroring those of his mind. Fiennes is scarily good in the role, abandoning any researched mimicry to full on effortlessly sink into the psyche of this poor disturbed man, organic and believable. Byrne is solemn and somber as ever, just as complicated as his progeny yet burdened with the also torturous yoke of sanity, while Richardson is electric in both her roles. Stage stalwart John Neville babbles his way through a turn as a fellow resident of the halfway house, while Lynn Redgrave plays it’s stern matron. Dank, destitute and lost is the tone they’ve gone for here, with no Hollywood safety net to rescue both viewer and protagonist from the scintillating curves of a narrative that has no light at the end of it’s tunnel, a brave choice by Cronenberg, and stunning work from everyone who brings the tale to life, such as it is. Be ready to put on a Disney flick after sitting through the nail biting gloom of this one. 

-Nate Hill

Brett Ratner’s Red Dragon: A Review by Nate Hill

  

Brett Ratner’s Red Dragon, although pretty darn stylish, is just cursed with being the least engaging and unique Hannibal Lecter film out there. It’s not that it’s a bad flick, but when you have Silence Of The Lambs, Hannibal and the far superior Manhunter to compete with, you’re trucking down a rocky road. The strongest element this film has going for it is Ralph Fiennes, who plays the hell out of the role of Francis Dolarhyde, the disturbed serial killer also known as the Tooth Fairy. Previously played by an introverted and terrifying Tom Noonan, Fiennes gives him a more rabid, haunted vibe and steals the show, but then he always does. Edward Norton is a bit underwhelming as FBI behavioural specialist Will Graham, sandwiched between William L. Peterson and Hugh Dancy’s modern day, definitive take on the character. Graham has the tact and luck to ensnare notorious cannibalistic murderer Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins purrs his way through a hat trick in the role), whose help he subsequently needs in pursuing Dolarhyde. Harvey Keitel clocks in as rock jawed Jack Crawford, Graham’s boss and mentor, solidly filling in for far mor memorable turns from Laurence Fishburne, Dennis Farina and Scott Glenn. All the scenes with Dolarhyde fare best, given some truly impressive rural cinematography that sets the mood for the killer’s twisted mindset nicely. The cerebral jousting between Graham and Lecter only half works here, dulled in comparison to the crackling exchanges that Jodie Foster masterfully handled with Hopkins, who was far, far scarier back then. Emily Watson lends her doe eyed presence to the blind girl that brings out the only traces of humanity still left in Dolarhyde, Philip Seymour Hoffman shows up as bottom feeding tabloid reporter Freddy Lounds, and Mary Louise Parker, grounded as always, plays Graham’s wife. You could do worse in terms of films like this, but in the Lecter franchise it falls pretty far short of any of the other entries, save for the few inspired moments involving Fiennes. 

In Bruges: A Review By Nate Hill

  
I can’t really say in enough words how much I love In Bruges. In fact there aren’t words in my language which can express how deeply in tune to it I feel every time I put the DVD in for a watch, which is at least every four months or so. The dual forces of comedy and tragedy have combined here using Martin McDonough’s genius scriptwriting as an avatar to create something raucously funny and profoundly moving. The comedy is of the spiciest and very darkest nature (my favourite), and the tragedy tugs at both the heart strings and the tear ducts, scarecly giving you time to wipe away the tears of laughter from the scene that came before. The best in UK crime fare, some of the most balanced, peculiar writing and fully rounded characters who are as flawed as human beings get. Colin Farrell delves deep and gives the performance of his career as Ray, a would be hitman who has fucked up bad, and now heads for Bruges (it’s in Belgium) with his mentor Ken (Brendan Gleeson, pure brilliance and humble class). Ken loves eccentric little Bruges, with its historical architecture and quaint townsfolk. Ray is bored to tears and pouts like a toddler. They meander around the town getting into all sorts of mischief including a dwarf (who has fascinating ideas about the ultimate race war), museums, cocaine, the Belgium film industry and more. Ray sets his sights on the gorgeous Chloe (), and Ken does his paternal best to keep him out of trouble while wrestling with his own gnawing guilt. The film gets a shot of pissy adrenaline when their boss Harry comes looking for them, in the form of a knock it out of the park funny Ralph Fiennes. Fiennes rarely cuts loose and bounces off the walls like he does here, and his Harry is a delightful creature to watch in action. Angry, petty, volatile, clever and out for blood, just a joy to behold. As playful as the script is, there’s a purgatorial sadness to Ray’s situation, a fateful sense that he’s been dumped in Bruges not just to fool around, get drunk and utter witty barbs in that brogue (which he does do a lot) but to deeply ruminate on his choices and ponder where his actions will lead him moving forward from his terrible deed. Maturity permeates each exchange between him and Ken, a fledgling and an old timer shooting the breeze about heavy topics which neither of them pretend to understand, but both are neck deep in. I always cry at certain scenes, always laugh my ass off at others, and never cease to be affected right to my emotional center and the marrow of my funny bone each time I watch this. Look for a brief cameo from Ciaran Hinds in the opening few minutes. Every second of this piece is filled with lush, thought provoking dialogue, awesomely un-politically correct dialogue that doesn’t censor a single impulse from its characters, and a yearning to explore the decisions which cause people to be labeled ‘good’ or ‘bad’, something that’s inherently complex yet feels lightly treaded on here. Masterpiece. 

The Constant Gardener: A Review By Nate Hill

Usually, I’m not super hot on adaptations of John Le Carré novels. His style tends to veer towards dense, impenetrable narratives that confuse and confound me, and are further frustrating because they have such wonderful casts and production value (I’m lookin at you, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy). The Constant Gardener, however, is a breathtaking story that I’ve enjoyed very much since I saw it in theatres at probably too young an age. It fashions a story that although is complex and refuses to be straightforward about what it’s trying to say, contains essential beats and stunning performances from its actors. It’s also set apart from other Le Carré yarns for having the most humanistic, compasionate core to its story, centering it’s focus on the atrocities that humans can commit upon each other in mass, faceless fashion and showing us the sparse, golden good deeds that a few kind people can put forth to counter such madness. An organic, emotional theme is nice compared to the clinical, detached style we usually see from this writer. The film is lucky in the sense that it has deeply gifted leads: Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz, two actors who always resonate with a relatable human kinship in their work, and are both superb here. Fiennes plays Justin Quayle, a British ambassador in a god forsaken African region whose luminous wife Tessa (Weisz) is found dead in a remote area under suspicious circumstances. She was investigating several high profile pharmaceutical companies, under scrutiny for their sociopathic, amoral drug testing trials on the poverty stricken Africans. Intrigue strikes in after this, as shellshocked Justin pieces together what lead to her death, and how he can cripple those responsible using espionage and a level of keenness that’s well above both his pay grade and mental constitution. Flashbacks abound as we see Justin and Tessa’s early years unfold, adding all the more to the lumps in our throats as we know the ultimate outcome which the film frankly showed us in the opening frames. Welcome supporting turns come from other UK geniuses like Bill Nighy as an icy CEO, Richard McCabe as Fiennes’s courageous brother in law, Danny Huston as a shady friend of Tessa’s and Pete Postlethwaite as a mysterious doctor who figures later in the plot. Cinematographer César Charlone makes sweeping work of bringing the chaotic nature of Africa to life, it’s people, landcsape and aura beautifully rendered in shots that evoke the best of Monét and similar artists. Such beauty brought forth from a story filled with unpleasantness is interesting, almost a refusal to present the depressing story in any other fashion than to show us the virtue in tragedy, the cost of lost lives and unchecked corruption present for all to see and wince at, yet somewhat quelled by the undeniable forces of light also in play. Rachel and Ralph’s work is an example of this; They are compassion incarnate, pools of hurt, determination and love for one another in the face of evil, unfair odds. They should both be very proud of their work here. Direct Fernando Meirelles has helmed Blindness and the classic City Of God, and as such is no stranger to infusing pain and sorrow with esoteric, positive qualities. He takes full advantage of the African setting, where suffering is commonplace and along with his entire troupe, throws all the lush, alluring kindness straight into the face of horror in an audacious stylistic set of choices which make The Constant Gardener one of the most achingly well constructed romantic annd political thrillers of the decade.

SPECTRE – A Review by Frank Mengarelli

day-of-the-dead-bond-poster

SPECTRE is the James Bond film that a lot of us have been waiting for: the Daniel Craig film that is his own. I have very much enjoyed the Craig series, but the films have been muddled in each of their own respects. CASINO ROYAL was the unnecessary franchise reboot, QUANTOM OF SOLACE was the adrenaline fueled action film, and SKYFALL was the epic blanket film that absolutely everyone could love. SPECTRE did a brilliant job of building off all the archetypal elements of the previous three Craig films, and made this film as seminal as YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE or ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE.

It doesn’t come as a surprise that this will be a divisive film, especially coming off of SKYFALL. This is a film that a lot of the more recent Daniel Craig Bond fans won’t fully understand. But for those of us who have been waiting for this film, this film excels with everything. The gun barrel sequence opens the film, the cheeky humor, Dave Bautista as the classicly eccentric henchmen, the macho alpha respect Bond has with M, the flirty tension with Miss Moneypenny, Q and his gadget room, a fantastic opening credit sequence, an excellent title sequence, and above all: a be-all-end-all Bond villain.

maxresdefault

The ambiguous timeline of the Bond films as a whole is an interesting beast. The plot points and ending of SKYFALL certainly meshes with the Connery films. Why Bond respects M, why Bond has a flirty affinity for Miss Moneypenny, and now in SPECTRE, we’re given the wonderful homage to the main villain’s secret volcanic base, the inevitable scar over his eye, and why the villain hates Bond so very much.

Director Sam Mendes and screenwriter John Logan walked a fine line with with SPECTRE. They delicately and retroactively connected the previous three Bond films into the heart of SPECTRE, yet they kept true to Bond form by making a contemporary film about global chaos and digital espionage. SPECTRE has made the previous Bond films better, by connecting them in the way the Connery Bond films (including Lazenby’s singular film) were all connected by one thing: a shadow conspiracy.

1446221249-02bbd9ec41e0989f13f368f058cb93e4-600x400

There is no doubt, regardless of all the tabloid games that have been played recently, that Daniel Craig will return for at least one more film. I wouldn’t be surprised if Sam Mendes returned for the next film as well. Sam Mendes, John Logan and Daniel Craig knew exactly what they were doing and have struck gold with SPECTRE.

Full disclosure: I have owned every Bond film, sans NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN, from VHS to Blu Ray, and I will quadruple dip on the 4K Blu Rays next year.

MBondSpectre-RN-660x440