Tag Archives: Kiera Knightley

Everest (2015)

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I never got into mountain-climbing and I have never really got why people would be so into it. That has definitely not changed after Everest, the true story of the 1996 commercial expedition to climb the world’s highest mountain.

It’s a well-knowing incident, but as this is Spoiler-free Reviews, I’m going to assume nothing. That said, the fact that a movie was made about it means everything obviously wasn’t smooth sailing.

The biggest draw card of Everest is the star-studded ensemble cast, one of the most impressive of the year. There’s Aussie Jason Clarke, who doesn’t put much effort into his Kiwi accent as New Zealand guide Rob Hall, and Kiera Knightley, who plays his pregnant wife. There’s Josh Brolin, who plays American climber Beck Weathers, with an almost unrecognisable (especially if you have been watching House of Cards) Robin Wright as his wife.

I would say those two are the primary focus, with supporting roles filled out by Jake Gyllenhaal, John Hawkes, Sam Worthington, Michael Kelly, Emily Watson, Martin Henderson and Elizabeth Debicki. It’s an impressive list, but it doesn’t feel like a film merely trying to attract audiences with big names.

The start of the film plays out like you would expect, educating us about Everest while introducing to us all the various characters. The problems with the film, however, emerge quickly after that.

The feeling I got was that Icelandic director Baltasar Kormákur tried too hard to make a film that is not only realistic but more importantly remains respectful to the real-life people involved in the incident. People often complain when a movie “based on a true story” deviates too far from what really happened, and Everest probably suffers from the reverse of that because it just feels like nothing particularly exciting actually happens. The decision to take very few liberties (at least this was the feeling I got from watching it) and sticking to facts inevitably takes a lot away from the movie experience. It actually made me wonder whether they should have just made a documentary with some dramatic re-enactments instead.

To be fair, it’s not an action movie and the film is much more about the dramatic elements and the psychological anguish than anything else. However, Everest doesn’t quite get that right either, as I felt it lacked the emotional punch I had been hoping for. It stems from the plodding narrative and the simple fact that there are too many characters to keep track of, thereby diluting the connection to each individual character and their respective predicaments.

And I don’t know if this only applied to me, but there were also times when I struggled to tell who was who because everyone was dressed in full snow gear with their faces covered and ice pelting down on them.

The result is a film that never comes close to heart-pounding suspense and moving drama it was marketed as having. Despite the great cast and solid performances all round, Everest ends up being a well-made and respectable true-story film but also ultimately a hollow affair.

3 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Begin Again (2014)

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Every now and then we all need a movie that will put us in a good mood, something light that will make us smile without making us think too much. Begin Again is such a film.

First of all, it stars the affable Mark Ruffalo and Kiera Knightley as two depressed individuals who pick themselves back up with the power of music. Ruffalo is Dan, a music agency exec whose professional and personal life is in tatters when he comes across Gretta (Knightley), a British singer-songwriter coming to still coming to grips with the actions of her douchebag rising star boyfriend (played by real-life douchebag Adam Levine from Maroon Five).

Together, they try to produce an album full of catchy tunes, shunning the traditional studio route for cheaper outdoor recording with the help of friends and family, including Dan’s precocious daughter (Hailee Steinfeld) and Gretta’s musician buddy (James Corden), and developing an unlikely friendship along the way.

Director John Carney, who gave us the Irish musical film Once, again rides the charm and chemistry of his actors in delivering a fun, enchanting experience filled with light humour, heartfelt drama and ample doses of sweetness. Think Music and Lyrics but much less deliberate, cliched, saccharine and sentimental.

The music, most of which is written by Gregg Alexander — best known as the front man of the New Radicals (you know, “You Only Get What You Give”) — is also perfectly accommodating to my laid-back, commercial-oriented taste. It’s listener-friendly stuff you’ll find yourself looking for after the movie on YouTube or Spotify. The hit single from the soundtrack, “Lost Stars”, was nominated for Best Original Song at this year’s Oscars and performed live — brilliantly too — at the ceremony by Levine. The biggest surprise, however, is that the song is even better when sung by Knightley, whom I would have never guessed has such a beautiful voice. I’ve always liked Kiera, but this movie takes it to another level.

Begin Again might not make any critics lists for best movies of the year, but it’s difficult to actually find much wrong with this lovely and satisfying experience. I liked the characters, I liked the songs, the singing, the New York setting, and the way certain dynamics were left slightly ambiguous. There is a freshness to the film that is rarely seen in romantic comedies these days, though you can’t even really call it a rom-com because it so cleverly avoids the tropes of the genre. A feel-good movie of the best kind.

4 stars out of 5

Movie Review: The Imitation Game (2014)

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You know what’s awesome? Watching a movie you expect to be very good, and then having those expectations shattered because it’s even better than you thought it would be. That’s essentially what happened when I watched The Imitation Game, the amazing true story about how British prodigy Alan Turing cracked the Nazi’s “unbreakable” Enigma code during the Second World War.

I had heard mostly rave reviews about the film, especially after it received eight nominations at next month’s Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Actor for Benedict Cumberbatch. Usually when a film is overhyped, the ensuing viewing experience will inevitably turn into (at least) a mild disappointment. Case in point: 2011’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, another British flick that received overwhelming praise but put me into one of the best sleeps I’ve had in years.

And so I was shocked that discover that The Imitation Game is the real deal. The film had it all — a riveting “true story” premise, a fascinating central character, stylish execution, wonderful performances and plenty of excitement and thrills. And to top it off it wasn’t “too British” at all.

The story is clearly and cleverly told through three time periods — in 1951, when police start probing into Turing’s life after an alleged break-in at his house; in the early 1940s, when Turing is hired by the British government to crack the Enigma code used by Nazis to encrypt their messages; and during Turing’s school years, when we learn how his genius is also his curse. I was really impressed by how each time period served a distinct purpose, both in terms of plot and characterisation, and how everything would come together for viewers in the end like solving a giant puzzle, much like how Turing cracks the code in the film.

I had fears that the movie would be flat despite its premise because, let’s face it, watching people sit around trying to crack a code on screen could be kinda boring. This was one of the fatal flaws of one of Cumberbatch’s other “true story” films, 2013’s The Fifth Estate. Cumberbatch was great as Julian Assange, but none of the films’ digital wizardry could make typing on keyboards and online chats feel exciting.

The masterful script by Graham Moore and the crafty delivery by Norwegian director Morten Tyldum avoid such pitfalls by explaining just enough for audiences to understand the task at hand but without losing them through over-complicating things. They fill the movie with constant sources of tension, from Turing’s tenuous relationships with his colleagues and his superiors in the British government to the moral quandaries of war and hiding his deep dark secret. There’s even a Russian spy in there to keep things interesting, and it also helps that there is actually a big physical machine with gears and the whole shebang that churns through the code combinations as we wait with eager anticipation.

Cumberbatch deserves the acclaim for his portrayal of Turing, and I would not be at all upset if he takes home the Best Actor gong next month. Thanks to Cumberbatch’s performance, The Imitation Game is as much a biographical character study of Turing as it is a film about breaking a Nazi code. Not very many actors could have done what he did, and that’s to make audiences not just sympathise with the tragic character, but root for an arrogant, socially inept loner who challenged the Enigma code more for ego than to save lives. And yet Cumberbatch manages to win us over very early on with his charm and witty delivery.

Kiera Knightley, who earned a Best Supporting Actress nod as Turing’s colleague Joan Clarke, is also very good, as is the rest of a quality ensemble cast featuring the likes of Matthew Goode, Mark Strong and Tywin Lannister himself, Charles Dance.

I can’t think of anything negative to say about this movie. Award bait or not, The Imitation Game is an instant classic that tells an important story about a forgotten hero but doesn’t forget to educate us, excite us and captivate us along the way. Hands down one of the best movies of 2014.

5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014)

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Alec Baldwin. Harrison Ford. Ben Affleck. And now Chris Pine. With the exception of Baldwin (who’s a bit of an outlier anyway), Jack Ryan is the Benjamin Button of spy characters in that he just keeps getting younger and younger. And less dopey-looking.

All jokes aside, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recuit is yet another rendition of Tom Clancy’s most famous character, and while there are some positives to take out of it I’m still fairly convinced this is again a one-and-done reboot. I enjoyed the concept and some of the action sequences, but it’s one of those films where the more you think about it the more ridiculous and silly it seems. It’s not bad as a standalone espionage flick but not strong enough to lay the foundations of a new series.

This time, we go right back to the beginning, when a young Captain Kirk (Pine) witnesses the horrors of 9/11 while studying in London and decides to become a US marine. It doesn’t go too well for him, but through the disaster he is discovered by a CIA operative, codename Dances With Wolves (just kidding, it’s Mr Kevin Costner). And so begins a new career for our protagonist, whose adventures take him to Russia and a tycoon played by Kenneth Branagh, who also directed the film. There’s a conspiracy and there’s a terror plot brewing, one that could destroy the world as we known it, and Jack Ryan must find a way to stop it in time without pissing off his girlfriend, Kiera Knightley.

From that brief synopsis, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (horrible title, by the way) seems like your typical spy action flick. And while there are elements about it that intrigued me — the terrorist plot, the fact that Ryan was just starting off as an analyst as opposed to a field agent, and the always-welcome presence of Branagh in front of and behind the camera — in the end it really was just your typical spy action flick. That’s a shame, because I think there was potential for more layers and depth, in particular as they had brought in 9/11 and the whole economic terrorism angle, but instead they went traditional and opted for car chases and explosions.

Branagh, who surprised me when he did an excellent job with Thoralso comes out with a commendable effort here in terms of generating tension and at least a semi-realistic feel to the action sequences. His own performance was charismatic, and Chris Pine was rather believable as a brilliant analyst who starts out way out of his depth but eventually embraces his destiny. Kevin Costner is, well, very Kevin Costner, and Kiera Knightley puts on a decent American accent as the damsel in distress masquerading as a strong, independent woman.

So the execution is not bad, but it’s a shame that the script becomes more and more outrageous as it progresses. We are supposed to see what a brilliant mind Jack Ryan is, but if you really think about it he actually does a lot of stupid stuff that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. I can’t discuss these without divulging spoilers, but let’s just say Ryan’s so-called “brilliance” relies upon giving up the easy route for the hard one (maybe so the task seems more difficult) and plenty of dumb luck. It’s not just Ryan either, as plenty of others, including the villain(s), are guilty of head-scratching behaviour. And don’t even get me started on the final climax, which goes from implausible to ridiculous to just plain silly.

At the end of the day, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is what it is: sleek albeit familiar B-grade entertainment featuring a popular character and a stellar cast. It’s serviceable as a DVD rental but it would be unfair to expect too much. There clearly is something about Jack Ryan that makes Hollywood keep wanting to make movies about him, but this one doesn’t exactly show us why.

3 stars out of 5