Tag Archives: Naomie Harris

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Frankenstein (2011, Danny Boyle), the second version

Maybe Danny Boyle isn’t the right guy to direct a stage play of Frankenstein. When he goes to close-ups–this Frankenstein being a filmed performance, with a lot of overhead shots and close-ups to make it somewhat filmic (along with terrible music choices)–he doesn’t seem to recognize some of his actors aren’t really doing enough emoting for a close-up.

Jonny Lee Miller does fine emoting. Miller plays the Creature. Miller’s captivating. Phenomenal. Breathtaking. Every nice adjective one could come up with. Even when he’s got some really weak dialogue, Miller nails it.

Nick Dear’s play–loosely adapted from the novel with some familiar movie details thrown in–gives the Creature a lot to do. It doesn’t give Frankenstein much of a character, but Benedict Cumberbatch doesn’t put much into the performance so it evens out. Otherwise, he just stands around waiting for Miller to finish something amazing.

There are some cute nods to the Universal films, set design, a really cute music one. Also the humor. There’s a lot of humor in Frankenstein, presumably to compensate for the darkness. Except Dear (and Boyle in his filming choices) go real dark. So why not own it?

Well, they don’t own their good choices so why should own their bad ones. Bad choices like George Harris as Frankenstein’s father. He’s awful.

Naomie Harris is excellent as Elizabeth though. She and Miller’s scene together is heart-wrenching.

Cumberbatch’s disinterest aside, the script’s the problem. But Miller gloriously overcomes it.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Danny Boyle; play by Nick Dear, based on the novel by Mary Shelley; music by Karl Hyde and Rick Smith; released by National Theatre Live.

Starring Jonny Lee Miller (The Creature), Benedict Cumberbatch (Victor Frankenstein), Naomie Harris (Elizabeth Lavenza), George Harris (M. Frankenstein), Ella Smith (Clarice), Mark Armstrong (Rab), John Stahl (Ewan) and Karl Johnson (de Lacey).

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frankenstein-v1

Frankenstein (2011, Danny Boyle), the first version

Maybe the National Theatre Live just recorded a cruddy night for the Benedict Cumberbatch as the Creature performance of Frankenstein. Maybe there was some immediate reason that night to explain why Cumberbatch’s performance consists of little more than speaking when inhaling and occasionally giving an angry look.

It’s not like Nick Dear’s play is good enough to compensate for a bad performance in the lead. The first act, introducing Cumberbatch’s monster to the world, is tedious. There’s no chemistry between Cumberbatch and Karl Johnson as his mentor. I won’t even get into Cumberbatch’s lack of glee during the gleeful discovery of the world sequence.

But then Jonny Lee Miller shows up and the play gets a whole lot more tolerable. He’s exhausted, tortured, selfish, shallow. He and Naomie Harris are excellent together, especially during the comic relief portions. Not so much during the dramatic parts, just because Dear’s script is really weak on them… but on maybe half of them.

Cumberbatch is best during a few of his scenes with Miller. Not all of them, not even the most important ones–Dear’s lukewarm ending is even worse since Cumberbatch runs the scene. But some of them. Maybe it’s just Miller bringing actual energy to the production.

Thanks to Dear’s writing–Miller has to fight for good moments as Frankenstein, while Cumberbatch wastes all the good ones for the Creature–there’s only so far this production can go. It’s unfortunate, since Harris and Miller do some excellent work.

Otherwise, it’s exceedingly pointless.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Danny Boyle; play by Nick Dear, based on the novel by Mary Shelley; music by Karl Hyde and Rick Smith; released by National Theatre Live.

Starring Benedict Cumberbatch (The Creature), Jonny Lee Miller (Victor Frankenstein), Naomie Harris (Elizabeth Lavenza), George Harris (M. Frankenstein), Ella Smith (Clarice), Mark Armstrong (Rab), John Stahl (Ewan) and Karl Johnson (de Lacey).

Ninja Assassin (2009, James McTeigue)

Has there ever been a major studio ninja movie before? As far as I know, no. There were the Cannon ones in the eighties, but those, obviously, don’t count.

Actually, I didn’t even know Ninja Assassin opened theatrically. I’m slow keeping up with what qualifies one film to be released theatrically while another not. The main reason I can’t believe Ninja Assassin made it to the theaters is its standing as an enjoyable bad film. I mean, it’s not entirely bad, but it’s a complete piece of crap. It’s a ludicrous, terribly written disaster (apparently the producers hired J. Michael Straczynski to come in and punch up the script and he applied his usual level of horridness to it), but it’s not bad. McTeigue’s direction is absolutely fabulous. The fight scenes mix choreography and blood in a way I haven’t seen done as successfully since The Street Fighter. He really makes the film thrilling. It’s a symphony of violence in a way I’m not sure I’ve seen before–it’s completely and utterly mainstream, but still over the top, excessive and totally silly.

Unfortunately, McTeigure’s directing skills don’t include the ability to direct actors. The only reasonable performance in the film is Naomie Harris, who’s a) too good for this kind of tripe and b) wonderful. The lead, Rain, plays a sensitive Terminator, but with less emotive abilities than Schwarzenegger. It might have something to do with the language barrier.

Ninja Assassin is utterly useless and a lot of diverting entertainment.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by James McTeigue; screenplay by Matthew Sand and J. Michael Straczynski, based on a story by Sand; director of photography, Karl Walter Lindenlaub ; edited by Gian Ganziano and Joseph Jett Sally; music by Ilan Eshkeri; production designer, Graham ‘Grace’ Walker; produced by Grant Hill, Joel Silver, Andy Wachowski and Lana Wachowski; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Rain (Raizo), Naomie Harris (Mika Coretti), Rick Yune (Takeshi), Ben Miles (Ryan Maslow), Sho Kosugi (Lord Ozunu), Anna Sawai (Kiriko), Sung Kang (Hollywood) and Richard van Weyden (Ibn Battuta).


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Josh Hartnett stars in AUGUST, directed by Austin Chick for First Look Studios.

August (2008, Austin Chick)

August clocks in, with end credits, at eighty-four minutes. I didn’t know the running time going in, so I wasn’t thinking about it. I would have guessed, just based on the perceptive passage, around two hours. My wife, not being a fan, probably would say three and a half. Doing a good movie in ninety minutes has gotten, for whatever reason, to be near impossible in the last forty-odd years. Doing a great one in under ninety, in New York, with a limited cast, has actually gotten a little easier in the last few. I’m thinking of Looking for Kitty.

August does a couple things, a couple important things. First, it fulfills Josh Hartnett, whose career has been in a mainstream paralysis the last six years. He’s the whole show in August, playing an unlikable, unsympathetic alpha male selling a useless internet product before the technology for it even exists. His character thinks he’s Prince. I’d seen some previews and they don’t properly represent his performance (August is, as the next point will clarify, difficult to sell). He’s fantastic.

The second thing it does is more and less important. August is a character study. I kept waiting for it not to be a character study, I kept waiting for it to go bad once it started getting great, but then the last scene came around and it became clear how Chick was ending the film.

August is set in August 2001. The World Trade Center only appears in one establishing shot. What Chick and writer Rodman do with that setting is rather unexpected. The film also has a lot of financial hyperbole–most of the conversations in the film are about Hartnett and brother Adam Scott’s company’s financial condition, not the most riveting to audiences. But it’s a character study.

As a director, Chick was one of my initial problems with August. His composition kept bothering me. It was like he was wasting a quarter of the screen (August is Panavision aspect, a quarter off would make it fit for HD). Then, after the first time shot using the entire screen, it became clear he was using that empty space. He was using it all along, but I guess I was just too suspect to give him the credit. I thought it was getting lucky.

The rest of the cast is good (even David Bowie). Since it’s all about their relationships with Hartnett, Adam Scott and Naomie Harris have the best parts. Scott and Hartnett only mildly resemble each other around the eyes (and it’s only at the end Chick uses close-ups), but August has one of those good, difficult brother relationships. Harris is the ex-girlfriend; she and Hartnett only have three scenes, but they’re all excellent. The other supporting cast members–Andre Royo, Robin Tunney, Rip Torn, Caroline Lagerfelt–all good.

August is definitely the sum of its parts–Nathan Larson’s music, awkward in the trailer and, I’m sure, on its own, is an essential element–as is Andrij Parekh’s cinematography. Chick makes an eighty-four (sorry, eighty-nine… with end credits) film, shot on limited locations (I figure the driving sequence was either the most expense or illegally done), about three weeks, expansive.

At some point, I guess somewhere after the twenty minute mark, I thought how nice it would be if August were great, then dismissed it. I’m not sure if I’m happier with the unexpected surprise or if I’m mad I’m so defeatist about film. But considering August, there’s no reason to be quite so cynical.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Austin Chick; written by Howard A. Rodman; director of photography, Andrij Parekh; edited by Pete Beaudreau; music by Nathan Larson; production designer, Roshelle Berliner; produced by Elisa Pugliese, Clara Markowicz, Josh Hartnett, Charlie Corwin and David Guy Levy; released by First Look Studios.

Starring Josh Hartnett (Tom), Naomie Harris (Sarrah), Adam Scott (Joshua), Robin Tunney (Melanie), Andre Royo (Dylan), Emmanuelle Chriqui (Mo), Laila Robins (Pivo), Caroline Langerfelt (Nancy), Alan Cox (Barton), David Bowie (Ogilvie) and Rip Torn (David).

Jamie Foxx is Tubbs, Colin Farrell is Crockett in MIAMI VICE, directed by Michael Mann for Universal Pictures.

Miami Vice (2006, Michael Mann), the director’s cut

Michael Mann’s director’s cuts are sometimes large and sometimes small. They usually include music changes. In the case of Miami Vice, he adds an opening, changes some music and does a few little things. It’s too bad, because even though it having an opening works out nice, neither of these major choices seem to be good ones. The opening introduces the cops’ speedboat racing team. They later use the same boat while undercover. It’s got their team name on the side. The change of music at the end starts out all right, but leaves the big shootout with some terrible scoring after the song runs out.

Watching Miami Vice on HD-DVD, it almost looks worse than it did in the theater. The DV makes it look like a sitcom. This viewing made it crystal clear what the big deal is about Mann using the DV. The actors have to work two or three times harder–only Colin Farrell manages it with any dignity–while Mann gets to cop out and do whatever he wants with the DV. There are some cool sequences in Miami Vice, but they never look good in high-def. They look like CG or the new “Grand Theft Auto.” The only time it ever looks good is the night shooting, when the sky is visible and the DV actually can photograph the differing colors well. I’ve seen DV well-lighted–from art school students no less–and it is not well-lighted in Miami Vice. Dion Beebe is an exceptionally unimpressive cinematographer.

The real problem is Mann’s script. He makes everyone in the movie, when he’s not borrowing his Manhunter lines, talk like Al Pacino and Robert De Niro do in Heat. Farrell can manage, so can Jamie Foxx to some degree (it’s sort of amazing how little Mann gives Jamie Foxx to do in the film), but when Naomie Harris starts doing it? It’s silly. There’s lots of bad acting in Miami Vice too. Barry Shabaka Henley stumbles through Mann’s dialogue, while Li Gong tries but just doesn’t work. It’s not believable her character wouldn’t speak English better.

John Ortiz’s evil villain starts out okay, but Mann reduces him to comic book status later on and it’s just bad.

I don’t know if I was expecting the director’s cut to help much–there’s still absolutely no partnership between Foxx and Farrell in the film–but I was expecting hi-def to make it look better.

I also don’t know how I feel about Mann always screwing up the music in his revisions. He kills the momentum at the end of Miami Vice and doesn’t even bother saving it from a jarring cut between the final shot and the credits.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Michael Mann; screenplay by Mann, based on the television series created by Anthony Yerkovich; director of photography, Dion Beebe; edited by William Goldenberg and Paul Rubell; music by John Murphy; production designer, Victor Kempster; produced by Mann and Pieter Jan Brugge; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Colin Farrell (Sonny Crockett), Jamie Foxx (Ricardo Tubbs), Li Gong (Isabella), Naomie Harris (Trudy Joplin), Ciaran Hinds (Agent Fujima), Justin Theroux (Zito), Barry Shabaka Henley (Lt. Castillo), Luis Tosar (Montoya), John Ortiz (José Yero) and Elizabeth Rodriguez (Gina).


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street-kings

Street Kings (2008, David Ayer)

I wonder who came up with the title Street Kings, as it has nothing to do with the film’s actual content. I didn’t realize Fox Searchlight had a dimwit exec in charge of re-titling movies. Silly me. The original title, The Night Watchman, actually makes sense (especially since the movie appears to be shot with the title in mind, with Keanu Reeves watching the sunset a few times throughout, waiting to get to work).

Before I get to the good, I need to get through the bad. David Ayer, apparently pissed off he didn’t get to work on the script (or at least, a credited amount), sort of directs against the script. The first act of the script has very blunt, very hackneyed dialogue. Ayer could have directed around it but doesn’t. He plays it straight and it doesn’t work. I mean, Ayer has the greatest gift–Keanu Reeves playing a dumb guy who can get away saying these lines and still, he messes it up. Ayer’s not a good director, but I didn’t expect him to sabotage his own first act (he gets a lot better the rest of the movie). He’s got an irritating swooping camera move he does once every couple minutes. It’s bad. The other bad stuff–because there’s a lot of mediocre work here and it’s fine–seems to be when he’s aping Michael Mann. There are a couple techniques from Miami Vice and about a hundred from Heat here.

The rest of the bad is mostly Amaury Nolasco in one of the supporting roles. He’s atrocious.

Street Kings greatest success is two-fold in regards to James Ellroy. First, he managed to modernize his standard of the dumb cop who wises up. Here, it’s Keanu Reeves and he never wises up too much (he’s always a blunt instrument) and it works wonders. Second, he’s managed to get in an utterly depressing ending. Street Kings is, at its core, a depressing story about a dumb guy who wises up and learns ignorance might be bliss–kind of a story better titled The Night Watchman.

Most of the acting is excellent. Forest Whitaker doesn’t do anything fantastic, but he’s very sturdy and quite good. Hugh Laurie’s okay, but his character has a handful of quirts straight from “House.” Chris Evans is, no shock, excellent. Once he and Reeves partner up, the movie starts toward its higher plane. For the most part, Jay Mohr, John Corbett, Terry Crews and Naomie Harris are wasted. Harris is so underutilized, I didn’t even realize it was her until I read the credits.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen Reeves carry a movie this well before–there’s a great scene when the dirty cops are bragging how easy it was to get it all over on him–and, title and director aside, Street Kings works fairly well.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by David Ayer; written by James Ellroy, Kurt Wimmer and Jamie Moss, based on a story by Ellroy; director of photography, Gabriel Beristain; edited by Jeffrey Ford; music by Graeme Revell; production designer, Alec Hammond; produced by Lucas Foster, Alexandra Milchan and Erwin Stoff; released by Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Starring Keanu Reeves (Detective Tom Ludlow), Forest Whitaker (Capt. Jack Wander), Hugh Laurie (Capt. James Biggs), Chris Evans (Detective Paul Diskant), Martha Higareda (Grace Garcia), Naomie Harris (Linda Washington), Jay Mohr (Sgt. Mike Clady), John Corbett (Detective Dante Demille), Amaury Nolasco (Detective Cosmo Santos), Terry Crews (Detective Terrence Washington), Cedric the Entertainer (Scribble), Common (Coates) and The Game (Grill).


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Colin Farrell is Crockett, Jamie Foxx is Tubbs in MIAMI VICE, directed by Michael Mann for Universal Pictures.

Miami Vice (2006, Michael Mann)

DV Michael Mann–because there is a difference between Michael Mann on film and Michael Mann on DV–doesn’t bother giving Miami Vice a first act. I suppose he intends the absence to be some sort of cinema verite thing, but it doesn’t work, it just gives the audience no characters to identify with. Lethal Weapon 2 did the same thing, except it was a sequel. So, maybe Mann intended the audience to just assume Miami Vice the movie follows up “Miami Vice” the TV show, but I doubt it. Some of the film’s problems stem from this lack. Colin Farrell flounders through the first half hour (or hour, time stands still during Miami Vice) because his character is never defined. Mann even gives him a character arc, only leaving off the front part of it. A houseboat and a pet alligator might have been useful. Poor Jamie Foxx, despite being top-billed, is barely in the movie. He dominates the beginning, the pre-Farrell story parts, when Miami Vice seems like Mann’s greatest stylistic misfire. The film barely ever feels like Michael Mann, but once Farrell’s story takes over, it gets closest to it. Even the awesome gunfight at the end is lacking any of the depth Mann usually brings to a film. The difference in Miami Vice is the bad guys. Heat had one, maybe two, bad guys, everyone else was gray. Miami Vice has seven good guys and thirty bad guys–and the bad guys are real bad (which makes the end a lot of fun, but not really dramatically solid).

Rating Mann’s use of DV is difficult. At the end, he seems to be going for ultra-realism (which, I imagine, is why the supporting cast is made up of low profile actors, no one famous), but during the film, he doesn’t embrace it. Miami Vice occasionally looks like a documentary, but never plays like one. The quality of the DV shots change from time to time, especially at night, or in contrast-heavy lighting. Maybe Mann needs to shoot in studios and do CG backdrops, something besides the DV, which simply does not look good.

I hoped Miami Vice would be a soulless, blockbuster version of Heat but Mann had different ideas. There’s some evidence he had more story for Jamie Foxx, maybe an examination of his relationship with fellow officer girlfriend Naomie Harris (who’s good). It’s also possible I’m just making excuses for Mann, because he didn’t even see the need to make Farrell and Foxx convincing partners. He still casts right (Li Gong impressed me, even with the pigeon English) and Colin Farrell can actually smile with his eyes, which is a neat trick. I went from–at the beginning–thinking Mann had finally lost it. By the end, I decided he still had something left, just not a lot. He probably should stop writing, but he definitely needs to drop the DV.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Michael Mann; screenplay by Mann, based on the television series created by Anthony Yerkovich; director of photography, Dion Beebe; edited by William Goldenberg and Paul Rubell; music by John Murphy; production designer, Victor Kempster; produced by Mann and Pieter Jan Brugge; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Jamie Foxx (Ricardo Tubbs), Colin Farrell (Sonny Crockett), Li Gong (Isabella), Naomie Harris (Trudy Joplin), Ciaran Hinds (Agent Fujima), Justin Theroux (Zito), Barry Shabaka Henley (Lt. Castillo), Luis Tosar (Montoya), John Ortiz (José Yero) and Elizabeth Rodriguez (Gina).


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28-days-later

28 Days Later (2002, Danny Boyle)

Why is Hollywood making Cillian Murphy the bad guy? He’s got to be the best everyman Hollywood’s seen since–who, Roy Scheider or something, except a better actor? No offense to Roy, I love Roy, but Roy’s a little bit of a movie star. Cillian Murphy’s not a movie star….

It’s impossible to really talk about 28 Days Later without talking about the ending. I could give a shit about the three alternate endings, by the way. I figure, a DVD release, Boyle could have thrown one in and labeled it director’s preferred and been done with it. So we’re talking about the one that’s on the DVD. It’s the only ending the film could have had for me to give it the four too. That last shot, that last breath. It’s a beautiful moment in an unexpected place.

A friend compared 28 Days to Winterbottom’s Wonderland while talking about digital video. 28 Days doesn’t even look like video. It looks like film with really neat rain effects (which are probably only possible with video). Incidentally, Wonderland doesn’t look like video, it looks like a hi-res 16 millimeter.

I can’t explain how happy I am following this film, how elated. It’s under two hours, takes place over a handful of days, and it manages to have six distinct parts to it. Six distinct “stories.” Well, no, five distinct stories. The last two are rather linked… though wouldn’t neccesarily need to be.

Unfortunately, the same thing that happened after the last time I watched Trainspotting is happening again. I’m falling in love with Danny Boyle’s filmmaking. It won’t last, of course, all I need for a cure is Shallow Grave or, ugh, A Life Less Ordinary, but I still haven’t seen The Beach, though I have been warned… Maybe Millions. Boyle’s not a young Turk, either. I think he was at least in his forties when he made Trainspotting, so he’s probably in his fifties now. (Miramax always seemed to present Trainspotting as a young Turk film). Trainspotting is better, I suppose, though Boyle’s a better filmmaker now than he was then. He’s less reliant on dialogue to move things, much more comfortable with the effect of his visuals.

Making a shot empty of people matter is difficult. It puts a lot of weight on the fellow going through the whole experience. Vanilla Sky doesn’t really count as an example and The Pianist failed miserably (I was terrified when I started 28 Days Later, fearful it would be a zombie movie like The Pianist, the lead going around, running, exploring ruins, all without any real emotional impact, hiding behind a calamity). So, now’s when I could rain praise on Murphy, who’ll maybe someday find a good role in Hollywood, but until then I need to track down that friggin’ one of his Nicheflix cares. I don’t know the female lead’s name, but she’s really good. So’s the girl. So’s Christopher Eccleston, which surprised me, especially since he was so bad in Shallow Grave.

28 Days Later, while definitely delievering a good “horror” film, a good “zombie” film, one ups even Romero’s best. While his Dawn of the Dead was about people and their struggles in a situation created by zombies, Boyle and screenwriter Alex Garland (do I have to see Halo now?) tell a story about some guy. (Romero tends to let his commentary overwhelm the story, no matter how effective the story–or commentary–might be, Martin for example). So now The Stop Button is all about 28 Days Later and Danny Boyle and Cillian Murphy and shit….

At least until I see The Beach.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Danny Boyle; written by Alex Garland; director of photography, Anthony Dod Mantle; edited by Chris Gill; music by John Murphy; production designer, Mark Tildesley; produced by Andrew MacDonald; released by Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Starring Cillian Murphy (Jim), Naomie Harris (Selena), Christopher Eccleston (Maj. Henry West), Megan Burns (Hannah) and Brendan Gleeson (Frank).