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War Machine – Review

21 Jun

In 2012, a book titled The Operators by Rolling Stone editor Michael Hastings was released. It details the times that Hastings spent with General Stanley McChrystal, who was the commander of the International Security Assistance Force. Soon after Hastings published an article featuring McChrystal and his team, which featured a lot of trash talking certain high level government officials, McChrystal was pretty much forced to resign his position. Now we have another look at the story in a fictionalized, satirical account of what happened by writer/director David Michôd and his latest film War Machine. I’ve heard a lot of mixed things about this movie, so I was a little hesitant going into it, but I have to say I really had a blast with this movie, despite some of its minor storytelling set backs.

General Glen McMahon (Brad Pitt) is a man of principles, conviction, confidence, and opinions. While all of those words do perfectly describe the officer, he’s also loud mouthed, arrogant, and a buffoon. He’s also the commander of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan at the tail end of the war. Along with his team of sycophants and cronies, McMahon has a plan to bring peace to the Middle East with the payoff being a huge boost of his ego. Of course, along the way he has to deal with bureaucrats and politicians cutting into his plans while also trying to manage relations with Afghanistan’s new president (Ben Kingsley). While formulating a plan to head into enemy territory in a major assault that will be the high point of his career, McMahon agrees to have Rolling Stone reporter Sean Cullen (Scoot McNairy) join the ranks to see the inner workings of his squad. This, along with every other bad decision of his career, will ultimately be his downfall.

The first thing that I really came to appreciate after watching War Machine is the film’s tone. It’s silly and often times over the top, but it never falls into the realm of stupidity. The dialogue has some corny jokes, but it also has some pretty whip smart moments of really good satire. While all of the humor is well and good, I was also surprised to find some depth and drama to the storytelling. I was really just looking to have some laughs with this movie but I felt a little more than that. By the end of the film, I started to analyze the character of McMahon and his intentions and the consequences of his action. There are even a few quieter moments that were actually kind of sad, and that’s an area I really wasn’t expecting the film to go based on the trailer. This isn’t just a surface level movie that exists to provide some cheap laughs. War Machine has a message and actual depth to it to support the laughs and the sillier moments in the movie.

So, War Machine is a movie with a message and it’s one that I can agree with. Unfortunately, the film’s biggest problem lies with how this message is conveyed at certain times. Throughout the movie we hear Scoot McNairy’s character doing a voice over and explaining certain things that are happening in the film or describing a character we are meeting for the first time. This helps since there are a lot of minor characters in this movie and everyone is constantly traveling around. While this helps with certain things, it also comes across as annoying more often than it should. The character of Sean Cullen is fine when he’s actually with McMahon and the other soldiers, but his voice over is so cynical and snide, while also beating the viewer on the head with the opinions being expressed in the movie. It was kind of annoying being told how I should be thinking. If the writing of the voice over was toned down just a little bit, that would have been great. I can figure out the messages and themes of movies, so I really don’t need them explained to me in this way.

One of my main draws to this movie was to see Brad Pitt in yet another role where he’s playing someone completely out of the ordinary. Pitt takes this part of McMahon and completely embodies it. From his odd posture, to his facial ticks, and even the goofy way he walks and runs, he’s perfectly believable as this character and it’s easy to forget you’re watching an actor, even if his face is so recognizable. Sir Ben Kingsley is also hilarious as the off the wall president of Afghanistan that McMahon is trying to cooperate with, even if they’re both not on the same page with each other at all. Kingsley is really hardly in this film, but most every scene has Pitt in it. Unfortunately, while everyone else around them do their jobs fine, they aren’t given a whole lot to do other than the bidding of McMahon, and while there are funny moments surrounding their characters they don’t really have too much that stands out.

At the end of it, War Machine is a pretty funny film with a memorable lead character and a sharp satirical look at America’s goings on in the Middle East. It isn’t really a heavy film, so if you’re looking for serious war and drama, look elsewhere. War Machine is packed with great satire and a tad too much cynicism for my taste. Still, as far as comedies go, it’s definitely one that’s worth a look.

Final Grade: B+

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The Jungle Book – Review

23 Apr

My childhood, along with most I would assume, was spent watching classic Disney movies on VHS. I’m sure you can remember the ones that opened like a book and had the white lining. Ahhh, the sweet smell of nostalgia. I’m all for a good, heaping dose of nostalgia from time to time, but I feel like we’ve become a generation where a large percent of the box office leans on that very same idea of hearkening back to our childhood. That’s why I was skeptical of Disney’s live action remake of The Jungle Book. It may be one of the most beloved children’s cartoons of all time, which made me think this was just another cash grab. When I say I couldn’t have been more wrong, I mean that it may be the wrongest I’ve ever been in my life. So far, I’m considering The Jungle Book one of the best movies of 2016.

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Deep in the jungle, a young boy named Mowgli (Neel Sethi) is raised by a pack of noble wolves while also being trained in the ways of the jungle by the wise black panther Bagheera (Ben Kingsley). During a time of peace, the vengeful tiger Shere Khan (Idris Elba) discovers Mowgli living with the wolves and vows that when the time of peace is over he will kill the young man cub in retaliation for the burns he received to his face by man. This forces the wolves, Bagheera, and Mowgli to decide it would be safest for Mowgli to leave the jungle and return to the human village. While on their journey Mowgli meets a lovable, but scheming bear named Baloo (Bill Murray), who joins the quest to bring Mowgli to the village. Dangers lurk around every corner though as Mowgli is threatened by elements such as the snake Kaa (Scarlett Johansson), the megalomaniacal King Louie (Christopher Walken), and the ever lurking presence of Shere Khan.

While The Jungle Book tells a classic story that has been told time and time again, this version, directed by the great Jon Favreau, focuses mainly on retelling the 1967 animated Disney film. That makes sense, really, since this is also made by Disney. This version of the film, however, immerses you into the story, the characters, and the environment like no other telling. The CGI in this movie is mind blowing which makes it hard for me to say that this isn’t a live action movie. It feels so much like watching a completely live action film, even though 95% of it was shot over a green screen and edited into the movie. The jungle in this movie lives and breathes and becomes an essential character all its own. Meanwhile, characters we’ve known since our childhood come to life like they never have before.

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While the CGI is fantastic and the characters all look great, they wouldn’t be nearly as life like if it wasn’t for the excellent voice work. Ben Kingsley as Bagheera and Bill Murray as Baloo are so accurately casted and work very well together as two opposites working very hard towards the same goal. They have great banter and read the lines very well. The scene stealer, unsurprisingly, is Idris Elba as the terrifying Shere Khan. There were a few kids in my theater who didn’t last ten minutes once Shere Khan went onscreen, and I can’t really blame them. Elba is just fantastic. Neel Sethi is a great find to play Mowgli, and Christopher Walken sounds like he’s having the time of his life playing King Louie. The only person who I feel was underutilized was Scarlett Johansson as Kaa. She only had one scene to really do anything, and while she played the part very well she just wasn’t in it enough.

What really drives The Jungle Book into the realm of greatness is the feeling of adventure that’s present throughout the entire film. This is a story of growth and learning, heroes and villains, and most importantly it’s a whole lot of fun. There wasn’t a frame in this movie that bored me. Even if the story was slowing down a little bit, there was always something gorgeous to look at onscreen. It’s important to note that while this is a festival of CGI, the film uses the effects to tell the story instead of making the movie about the effects.

The Jungle Book is the first movie of 2016 that made me just feel really excited. This is one of those movies that reminded me why I love film so much in the first place. The effects are out of this world, and speaking of out of this world, so is the cast of voice actors. I never thought in a million years I would love this movie as much as I did, but as of right now it’s my favorite movie of 2016. Do not miss this one.

Sexy Beast – Review

17 Oct

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more curious name for a movie title. It doesn’t really have too much to do with the story, but I’ll be damned if it doesn’t make you want to know what it’s about. Well, to put it simply, Sexy Beast is a British crime film that does border on comedy at times. There is one part of the movie, however, that is remembered the most about this movie. It isn’t the heist and it isn’t the main character. It’s Sir Ben Kingsley in one of the most terrifying performances of film history.

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Gal (Ray Winstone) is retired, and loving it. He has a beautiful house, a beautiful wife, and great friends who just add to his relaxation and comfort. That is, until one night at dinner they mention they will be getting a visit from an old friend. Enter Don Logan (Ben Kingsley), their old partner in crime who is now a part of a heist being prepared by the mysterious Teddy Bass (Ian McShane), and Don wants Gal on the job. As much as Gal persists, saying that he is retired, this only fuels Don’s determination, who has no filter or limits to what he will do to get him to do the job.

As much as I’d like to start off with talking about Kingsley’s performance, I’ll wait till a little later to mention it. First, lets talk about the writing. The dialogue in this film is note perfect and quick as a whip, which is pretty essential in British crime films. It the talking isn’t as fast as it is tough, than the writing isn’t really respected. Not only is the writing tough and quick, but there’s a lot of comedy that is questionable to laugh at. Don comes in, and we can’t help but laugh at his sociopathy at first. As the film goes on, though, the tone gets much more serious and the laughing slows down.

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Still not time for Ben Kingsley, yet. Bouncing off what I said about the writing, Sexy Beast is pretty unconventional in plot. We say it’s a crime movie about a heist, but the heist has really very little to do with the movie. The movie is more about Gal trying to keep Don off his case and doing something crazy in the process. But we still can’t forget about the heist, because that plays an important part, too. In comparison to the story with Gal and Don, they whole robbery seems kind of glazed over. If anything, I wish that was a more important part of the story, or on the flip side, I wish that was show even less. It kind of lingers in a gray area where it’s not shown enough, but is shown too much for me to not care about. In this respect, Sexy Beast feels very uneven.

But fine, now we have to mention Sir Ben Kingsley. Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight, Casey Affleck in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, and now Ben Kingsley in Sexy Beast. This is a list of some of my favorite performances in film, and it’s nice to have Kingsley on that list. His performance as Don is terrifying and hilarious at the same time. His line delivery is smooth in the choppiest way possible and we can’t help but to hate everything about him. Even by his introduction to thumping electronic music and his awkwardly quick gait, we know that we are in for a wild ride. Kingsley himself said playing Don was like getting all of his anger out, and at the end of the day he was very serene.

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So, if you’re into British crime films and don’t mind a touch of surrealism, than Sexy Beast is a cool movie. I just wish that the second half didn’t feel so uneven and rushed. Running barely even an hour and a half, it would have been better to flesh out some stuff and touch up the entire second half. Still, this is some fun entertainment that may not reach the levels of Snatch or Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, but it’s still a pretty cool film.