Richard joins CP24 to have a look at the weekend’s new movies including “Tomb Raider,” the dark comedy “The Death of Stalin,” the old folks road trip “The Leisure Seeker,” the crime thriller “7 Days in Entebbe” and the Cecil Beaton documentary “Love, Cecil.”
Richard sits in with CTV NewsChannel anchor Marcia MacMillan to have a look at the weekend’s big releases, “Tomb Raider,” the dark comedy “The Death of Stalin,” “7 Days in Entebbe” and the old folks road trip “The Leisure Seeker.”
A weekly feature from from ctvnews.ca! The Crouse Review is a quick, hot take on the weekend’s biggest movies! This week Richard looks at “Tomb Raider,” the dark comedy “The Death of Stalin,” and the old folks road trip “The Leisure Seeker.”
The Daily Telegraph calls writer/director Armando Iannucci “the hardman of political satire.” As the creator of sardonic films and TV shows like “In the Loop” and “Veep” he’s a vitally caustic comic presence.
As the film begins it’s 1953 and Joseph Stalin (Adrian McLoughlin), the second leader of the Soviet Union, is alive and well. Under his watch death squads are rounding up his enemies, executions are common and the mere mention of his name strikes fear into the hearts of the people. The Central Committee, surround him. There’s the scheming Nikita Khrushchev (Steve Buscemi), the pompous Georgy Malenkov (Jeffrey Tambor), Old Bolshevik Vyacheslav Molotov (Michael Palin) and secret police chief Lavrentiy Beria (Simon Russell Beale). When he suffers a stroke everything changes as his inner circle engage in a power struggle that will determine not only their futures but also the future of the Soviet Union.
The idea of chaos in the halls of power, though set sixty-five years in the past, feels almost ripped from the headlines. With jet black humour “The Death of Stalin” supercharges the farcical elements of a very dark time in history. With the cast using their natural accents—no one here tries to sound Russian—it feels surreal, like Monty Python gone amok. There’s doublespeak, jealousy and sight gags galore as this band of yes-men bumble around in an attempt to seize the Kremlin in the days following their leader’s passing.
Iannucci avoids the danger of trivializing the very real-life tragedy of the story—you hear gunshots off screen for much of the first half of the film—by not glorifying the villains. He takes a sharp knife to the reputations of Stalin, Khrushchev et al, portraying all of them as spoiled incompetents capable only of looking out for number one. In this historical context that approach works to show how absolute power corrupts absolutely.
“The Death of Stalin” is an audacious reimagining of history. Strong comic performances are highlighted in a film that is both frightening and funny at the same time.
“Hitman: Agent 47” is about murder, mayhem, car chases and bullets but really, at the core of its dark little heart, it’s about family.
Based on the videogame series of the same name, the story begins in 1967 with the establishment of a top-secret government program to create the perfect killing machine agents with no fear, no remorse or humanity.
Cut to many years later.
A trio of three people are on the hunt. Katia (Hannah Ware) is searching for a man she sees in haunting, strange visions, while the genetically modified Agent 47 (“Homeland’s” Rupert Friend) and John Smith (Zachary Quinto) are looking for Katia. As it turns out, all are interested in the same end game, locating the father of the Agent program, Dr. Litvenko (Ciarán Hinds in a paycheque role). As their paths and allegiances crisscross the trio fight their way through a convoluted plot to contribute to cinema’s body count and come to a bloody climax
“Hitman: Agent 47” has all the assets you expect from a videogame movie. It’s the kind of film where the “hero” fights against seemingly insurmountable odds and walks away without breaking a sweat. It’s also the kind of movie where it is not enough for someone to get shot, they must also fall from a great height hitting things on the way down. There is stylized action and bad guys with sub dermal body armour.
Unfortunately there’s also enough bad dialogue for any two Ed Wood Jr. movies—it’s the kind of movie were people say, “What the bleep is happening?” as an excuse to forward the story with exposition—a non-twist—(BLAZINGLY OBVIOUS SPOILER) Litvenko is Katia’s father! OMG!—and a main character that makes Jason Voorhees seem like a barrel of laughs.
The whole idea of Agent 47 is that he’s a cipher, a relentless and lethal killer—imagine a human Terminator without the accent or bulging muscles and you get the idea—and the ironically named Friend pulls that off, but that is a big part of the problem here. It’s difficult to build a movie around a personality-free title character. It’s been done—think anything starring Taylor Lautner—but first time director Aleksander Bach doesn’t have the chops to keep a movie based on a blank slate interesting. “Hitman: Agent 47” has a few stylish moments and some big action scenes, but not enough to add enough personality to push this dull affair over the top.
The world’s oldest profession has experienced an on screen revival of late. Steven Soderbergh’s film The Girlfriend Experience is a thoroughly modern look at the life of an escort while Cheri, the new film from Stephen Frears (of Dangerous Liaisons and The Queen fame) is a decidedly old fashioned take on the life of a lady of the night. Based on a 1920 novel by French author Colette it tells the story of the end of a six-year affair between a retired courtesan, Léa de Lonval (Michelle Pfeiffer), and an ostentatious young man, Fred ‘Chéri’ Peloux (Rupert Friend). When the relationship is over each must learn to go on with their lives. “Living with someone for six years is like following your husband to the colonies,” says Léa. “When you come back you’ve forgotten how to act and what to wear.”
The two films share a theme, the notion of what happens when people who sell themselves actually fall in love, but while Soderbergh’s take on the situation is up-to-the-minute with its references to Obama and the market meltdown Frears has taken a different path. His movie is not only set in the 1900s, but it feels like it was made in the 1900s; it feels old fashioned and staid.
The film is beautifully appointed—the sets, clothes and period details are bang on—but the acting style is stiff (with the exception of Kathy Bates, the only live wire in the cast), and the language a touch too courtly. For a movie about a courtesan it’s a bit too mannered.
The film has lots of problems. Firstly it breaks a cardinal rule of movie making: show me don’t tell me. A narrator (the voice of director Frears) pops up now and again to clumsily fill in the details sadly lacking in the film’s storytelling. When a narrator is needed to keep the momentum moving forward something is amiss.
Secondly affairs of the heart are unpredictable things, but Léa and Chéri are so self absorbed that their dangerous liaison never comes across as interesting. Their emotions are on the surface with no real depth. It was a repressed time but the film presents it and its characters as vapid rather than simply reserved.
If the story was more interesting those faults could be forgiven but the real killer here, the thing that drags the whole movie down is the casting of Rupert Friend as Chéri. There is love sick. There’s morose and then there is whatever Friend is trying to convey here. He turns Chéri into such a doleful wet rag it’s hard to imagine that anyone would want to spend a minute in the same room with him, let alone surrender their heart.
Pfeiffer fares better, wringing some emotion from the affected script and bringing sophistication to the character but is undone by an underwritten story.
Cheri is a minor work from a major filmmaker and talented cast.