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Posts Tagged ‘Stanley Tucci’

Still no cinemas open in these parts and so what can one do but catch up on things one has been meaning to do: beard-sculpture, perhaps, or some other form of self-mortification. Or one could do something genuinely joyous (quiet at the back) and finally catch up with one of the Jason Statham films still missing from the list: such as Simon West’s Wild Card.

This one was released in 2015, at the point when Mr Statham was in the process of upshifting from being the star of a string of mid-budget hard-core action thrillers to someone who participated in genuinely big blockbusters – various films in the Fast & Furious franchise, but also things like The Meg. A lot of these later films saw Mr S trying his hand at something a little different, and Wild Card is no exception.

The movie opens with a long sequence set in a Las Vegas bar, where a young woman (Sophia Vergara) is repeatedly hit on by Statham himself, who is playing an obnoxious and slightly threatening drunk. This is a bit more of a modulation on the standard Jason Statham Character than usual, and as the sequence goes on (and on) one does begin to realise that Statham really is trying hard to sell this performance. Could it be that this is a film where he is genuinely going to try and act?

Well, the situation resolves itself with Mr Statham being soundly trounced by Vergara’s boyfriend (Max Casella), much to her delight (suffice to say there is a reveal later on which feels like it owes something to P. G. Wodehouse), and we’re off into the rest of the movie, which is a little bit lighter on its feet but often much darker and more intense in its tone.

In this movie J-Stat plays Nick Wild, a freelance ‘security consultant’ based in Vegas: basically a bodyguard with a somewhat chequered background (is he supposed to be British or American? The other characters seem unsure and, as usual, Statham’s accent is all over the place). He dreams of getting enough money together to leave the States and live on a boat in Corsica, but so far these are just dreams and he has other things to worry about.

Wild’s latest client is a tech millionaire in his early twenties (Michael Angarano) who just wants to be shown the sights and kept safe while doing so: this is less than a source of undiluted joy to our man, especially as the lad may have an ulterior motive. A more personal matter has also arisen, as a young woman of his acquaintance (Dominik Garcia-Lorido) has been sadistically misused and badly beaten up by a minor underworld figure (Milo Ventimiglia). She wants Nick’s help in finding him; what will ensue once she know where he is is left unsaid, but it seems unlikely to be pretty nor to involve a call to the police department. (This is another movie where Statham has charged relationships with women from his past but there’s no real sense of romance: this is the kind of thing which leads to all that unlikely ‘gay icon’ talk.)

As you can perhaps tell, the opening sequence is a touch misleading, as Wild Card eventually settles down to Jason Statham playing the same character as usual: the cynical, slightly world-weary veteran fighter, living by a code of honour but still very, very dangerous when the situation demands it. However, what’s not misleading is the fact that this is primarily a film about Jason Statham acting.

Perhaps it’s a bit unkind to put it quite that way: let’s say instead that Wild Card is a bit of an outlier in the Statham canon in that it is a character piece rather than a straightforward action stomper. Do not panic, fellow aficionados: there are still several sequences of Mr S in full flow, including one where he bashes his way through half a dozen people in a casino bar which is as good as anything else in his back catalogue. But the emphasis is much more on who Nick Wild is and what’s on his mind.

Is he just a bruiser with a sentimental streak where his friends are concerned, as the film initially seems to be suggesting? Or is this just a cover for something else? Midway through the film he finds himself riding a string of lucky breaks, a winning streak that gives him the opportunity to realise all his dreams – if he has the guts to follow it through. Or could it be that Wild is basically just a dreamer whose natural yellow streak will cause him to sabotage himself and keep him from ever getting anywhere in his life?

Thankfully, the script (William Goldman adapts his own novel – although apparently this is one of those scripts which floated around for decades until Statham acquired it) isn’t too heavy handed about any of this and Statham isn’t required to do anything especially removed from his usual line of country. The result is essentially a fairly solid crime drama, which, while it does contain a couple of outstanding fight sequences, isn’t defined by them. The presence of a strong cast helps too (Stanley Tucci appears briefly as a senior underworld figure), especially as many of them are permitted to carry scenes and shine. (One sequence involving Garcia-Lorido, Ventimiglia, and some garden shears is particularly tense and rather uncomfortable to watch.)

And, in the end, Jason Statham doesn’t disgrace himself in this movie. It’s not the fastest or lightest or most spectacular of his own films, just as it isn’t the most distinguished or impressive crime drama ever made. But as a coming together of the two, it is quite satisfying and an interesting change of pace. Whether we see anything else of this ilk from the great man in future is an open question; but it suggests he does have potential to transition to a slightly slower and more thoughtful kind of movie at some point.

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A friend of mine tells the story of how she left her home, in a distant land, and travelled many thousands of miles, until her final arrival in Europe. Here she set about partaking of all the most famous cultural and historical experiences available to her. And so it was that she finally came to the Palace of Versailles, one of the world’s great treasures, where – in a somewhat unexpected development – she found herself seized by the overwhelming need to vomit. I don’t know, maybe it was just the French food or something.

Of all the stories one could tell about Versailles and its history, this is probably not the most profound or indeed accessible one, but then again the same could probably be said, with respect, to A Little Chaos, the new film from Alan Rickman (who also stars and co-writes). One wonders how much a factor Rickman’s personal star cachet was in getting this financed at all, because the premise doesn’t exactly scream breakout hit.

ALC_poster

Anyway, we’re in France in the year 1682, and Louis XIV (Rickman, who’s really about 20 years too old for the part in terms of historical accuracy, but whatever) has decreed the construction of Versailles as a paradise on Earth. In charge of the grounds is Andre le Notre (Matthias Schoenaerts), who sets about interviewing leading French gardeners for the job. One of these is Madame de Barra (Kate Winslet), and the two do not initially hit it off, as they seem to have wildly different ideas when it comes to the philosophy of garden design.

However, le Notre realises the scope of the King’s ambitions require him to adopt the ancient French principle of aller grand ou rentrer à la maison and so he ends up hiring her anyway (if he has an ulterior motive, the film gallantly does not dwell upon it). And so begins a tempestuous story of fountain design, pipe-laying, perennial-bloom selection and water-table draining, as le Notre and de Barra come to terms with their burning mutual attraction (rather to the chagrin of his estranged wife (Helen McCrory))…

I don’t make a habit of reading reviews from proper critics for fear of being unduly influenced by them, but the Telegraph‘s line did catch my eye and make me laugh a lot -‘if you only see one film about 17th-century French landscape gardening this year, make it A Little Chaos’. (I notice they haven’t put that on the poster.) Most of the film’s publicity has concentrated on the central romance and the colourful whirl of courtly life, but in all honesty it does feel like there’s a lot of stuff with people talking about water pressure and soil acidity, with the two leads only really getting together quite close to the end. The film’s title card from the certificators promises ‘moderate sex scenes’ and I would say this was a fair description – but, hey, they can’t all be brilliant.

A Little Chaos is quite a long film, given the slightness of the central story, and you are aware of every minute of it. That’s not to say it is dull, as such, just that you may require a different mindset to fully appreciate it. As director, Rickman seems to have prioritised the performances of the actors and the look of the film over the narrative itself, and the film is pretty much flawless in both departments. He has a fondness for extravagant tableaux in which wigged and costumed actors stand immobile in front of a striking background, and the overall impression is that of a film which is under tight control, with every shot carefully considered and composed.

Alan Rickman is one of those actors with undeniable charisma and an impressive reputation – albeit one which is based on a fairly low output in recent years. His days as Hollywood’s go-to guy to play villains feel like a long time ago, with most of his recent appearances being undemanding but (one assumes) preposterously well-remunerated turns in the Harry Potter series. So I suppose it’s nice to see him back doing a movie in any capacity, even if you really wish he actually turned up on screen in A Little Chaos more often than he does. It is in every sense a stately performance, but one which Rickman invests with real pathos, humanity and wit.

Also more prominent in the advertising than the movie itself is Stanley Tucci as the King’s brother. Tucci comes on in a couple of scenes, delivers a big splash of colour and humour and flamboyance, then (usually) clears off again for a bit. Even so, between them it’s mainly he and Rickman who keep the film’s discreet, tasteful, thoughtfulness from making the whole enterprise lose any sense of momentum. This is not to criticise the performances of Winslet or Schoenaerts, both of whom deliver performances of great subtlety and commitment. It’s just that, once again, these are exquisite miniatures, and it’s sometimes the case that more energy and vitality comes when you paint with a broad brush.

There’s nothing that’s actively bad about A Little Chaos in any department – it’s impeccably acted, photographed and designed – but the story doesn’t really go anywhere surprising and the film offers no real new insights or ideas concerning the world it is depicting. If it has a deeper theme, it’s not immediately obvious, so carefully textured is the story. As a result, the film impresses much more than it actually moves – or, really, entertains. Watching a very well-made film can be a pleasure in and of itself, and there are things to enjoy here, for certain: but I think a little less control and a lot more chaos would actually have served A Little Chaos rather better.

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