Tag Archives: Ben Kingsley

Lucky Number Slevin (2006, Paul McGuigan)

Critics enjoy ruining movies on the day of release. They must–Roger Ebert gives away more endings then not (he gave away The Sixth Sense of all things). Worse, however, is when critics spoil the experience for the audience. I read a couple reviews of Lucky Number Slevin today and one said it’d have audiences picking it apart like they did Memento. Besides the incredibly odd image of anyone exerting brain power on Memento, this review put me on my guard during Slevin and it wasn’t fair of it to do so… There is a twist in Slevin, but you’re supposed to figure it out–heck, you’re supposed to figure it out really, really early. I figured it out late because I kept waiting for Patrick Duffy to take a shower. The twist isn’t what the movie’s about, it isn’t the filmmakers’ focus. In other words, last time I read that critic….

Lucky Number Slevin is Josh Hartnett and Paul McGuigan’s second film together, after Wicker Park. They’re an odd pair, or at least were when they got together–McGuigan makes tough violent films and Hartnett was, at that time, about to become Brett Ratner’s Superman. Slevin is easily McGuigan’s best film, just because he’s got so much to do–it’s not just witty banter between crooks or violent scenes or even an incredibly touching love story (the date in Slevin is the best movie date in years)–but it’s also a serious story about fathers and sons. I actually can’t wait to watch Slevin again, because without the fear of the Duffy, I can appreciate the film’s depth. It’s touching in small moments, small ways, ways maybe one cannot understand the first time through… maybe that critic was correct in that regard.

Still, for the first viewing, Slevin is constantly entertaining. There’s a slow start at the beginning, but once Hartnett appears, it starts. Nicely, it starts with Lucy Liu (as the love interest) popping in. She and Hartnett are great together in the film, but their relationship is so well written it’d be hard for them to be bad together. The other acting is all excellent, particularly Ben Kingsley. It’s his loosest role and he has a great time with it. Morgan Freeman is good, but he’s playing Morgan Freeman again. He’s been playing Morgan Freeman since Unforgiven or so. Stanley Tucci is in the film for a bit and he gets to say “fuck” again. He’s got one particularly great scene with it. Bruce Willis has a difficult role, since he’s supposed to be the enigma, but he manages to do a couple nice things with it. Hartnett’s back in his usual, excellent form (Mozart and the Whale seeming like a high school play).

I remember the back of my Sabrina (the remake) laserdisc. It said, approximately, everyone knows what’s going to happen, so the joy of Sabrina is watching it happen. I might not have predicted everything in Slevin (though the fiancée did), but I certainly did enjoy watching it unfold–McGuigan does a masterful job with it. He’s getting to be a singular talent.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Paul McGuigan; written by Jason Smilovic; director of photography, Peter Sova; edited by Andrew Hulme; music by J. Ralph; production designer, François Séguin; produced by Chris Roberts, Christopher Eberts, Kia Jam, Anthony Rhulen, Tyler Mitchell and Robert S. Kravis; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Josh Hartnett (Slevin Kelevra), Bruce Willis (Mr. Goodkat), Lucy Liu (Lindsey), Morgan Freeman (The Boss), Ben Kingsley (The Rabbi), Michael Rubenfeld (Yitzchok), Peter Outerbridge (Det. Dumbrowski), Stanley Tucci (Det. Brikowski), Kevin Chamberlin (Marty), Dorian Missick (Elvis), Mykelti Williamson (Sloe) and Scott Gibson (Max).


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The Assignment (1997, Christian Duguay)

Since it’s Robert Ludlum week here at The Stop Button (actually it’s not, these two were a coincidence), I watched The Assignment, which is an unofficial adaptation of Ludlum’s Bourne trilogy. Again, I read Ludlum back when I was in junior high–maybe early high school–and I remember seeing this film and wondering why it wasn’t credited to him, since it lifts the major twist in the books. Googling reveals no answer and I suppose it is possible The Assignment–coming out of Sony’s now defunct low budget wing, Triumph Films–might have passed under the radar. Or not. M. Night Shyamalan is renowned plagiarist and I don’t think he’s ever been publicly sued. But Bourne Supremacy director Paul Greengrass has certainly seen this film, because he lifted his lauded car chase from it.

Christian Duguay never made it. It would have been hard, given he directed the first two Scanners sequels, but he’s an excellent director. I remember reading–back around the time either this film or Screamers came out–he used steadicam for every shot. Not the shaky steadicam, the “realism” steadicam, just steadicam. The shots have mobility and urgency. He also used CG to allow for interesting camera movements (like crawling down the Wailing Wall). He’s an excellent director. The Assignment’s script fails him, but Duguay is fantastic. There’s a ten or fifteen minute action scene in this film–a long chase from foot to car–and it’s brilliant, one of the finest sustained action scenes ever produced. But even his domestic directing is good. It’s because of this direction–and the acting, more on it in a sentence or two–it’s so obvious The Assignment could have been better. It could have been, with the right script, the Manhunter of espionage movies. Instead, it just shows the super-budgets of Matt Damon’s Bourne movies don’t make them better films.

Obviously, the difference between The Assignment and the Bourne duo is easily identifiable. The Assignment was made for a rational, thinking audience interested in character development and… narrative quality. The script is poor, not bad. There’s a difference. The acting in The Assignment finally reminded me why I like Aidan Quinn so much (I managed to finally get his wavering accent from Blink out of my head). Quinn is fantastic in this film and the role requires him to cover an incredible range of emotion. He’s just great. Ben Kingsley does a good job too, but it’s really Donald Sutherland who has the most fun. I’m not sure how “good” Sutherland’s performance is in The Assignment, but he’s an absolute joy to watch. An actress named Claudia Ferri–who’s in nothing, of course–is great as Quinn’s wife. The acting is so good and there are some dialogue I can’t believe was in the script, you feel like the actors just had to be improvising because it fit their acting so well.

This film is another one where some creative handling of the timeline would help–starting in the middle of the story, not going linear and explaining everything. To some degree, with Quinn playing two roles, they trick the viewer, but it’s not enough. There’s not enough of a hook, or at least as good of a hook if they’d jumbled the timeline. Even though The Assignment has the writing problems, it’s still worth seeing. It’d be worth seeing for either Duguay or the acting alone, but with both… again, all it really needed a good script polish….

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Christian Duguay; written by Dan Gordon and Sabi H. Shabtai; director of photography, David Franco; edited by Yves Langlois; music by Normand Corbeil; production designer, Michael Joy; produced by Tom Berry and Franco Battista; released by Triumph Films.

Starring Aidan Quinn (Annibal Ramirez/Carlos), Donald Sutherland (Jack Shaw), Ben Kingsley (Amos), Liliana Komorowska (Agnieska), Claudia Ferri (Maura Ramirez) and Celine Bonnier (Carla).


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Dave (1993, Ivan Reitman)

I love scenes where actors eat. There’s a great scene in Dave with Sigourney Weaver eating a sandwich. Great stuff.

It occurred to me, while watching the film, that, while it’s still cute, it’s already a relic and it’s only twelve years old. The idea of a person wanting to be President in order to help other people, to help the less fortunate. It isn’t just that Bush is a nitwit, ass clown, he’s also viciously unkind to the very idea of helping people. At the end of Dave, when the pseudo-Capra moments filled me, altruism filled me and I wanted to be President. The sensation lasted a second or two, which is the longest it’s lasted… probably since the last time I saw Dave, or maybe when I saw Waking the Dead or something. I love how movies about politicians have to be set in the past. Except “The West Wing,” but that’s not a movie and I don’t watch it anymore, anyway.

Then reality caught up. While Kevin Kline is great throughout the film, Gary Ross’s screenplay wastes the first half, barely featuring the best parts of the film: Kline and Weaver’s relationship, Kline and Ving Rhames’ relationship, and Kline and Charles Grodin’s relationship. Wow, do I ever miss Charles Grodin. Watching him again almost made me want to try watching The Heartbreak Kid again, then my senses returned. The whole film is perfectly cast, but the front section is too heavy with Frank Langella’s villain. Langella’s great, but it’s not where the film’s meaty. Dave‘s at its best when Weaver’s around. Her scenes let the audience connect with the incredible situation (so do some of Rhames’, but not as many) and let the film approach real poignancy.

If you can believe a film about an American President who doesn’t like murdering brown people, which, historically speaking, isn’t likely.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Ivan Reitman; written by Gary Ross; director of photography, Adam Greenberg; edited by Sheldon Kahn; music by James Newton Howard; production designer, J. Michael Riva; produced by Lauren Shuler-Donner and Reitman; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Kevin Kline (Dave Kovic/Bill Mitchell), Sigourney Weaver (Ellen Mitchell), Frank Langella (Bob Alexander), Kevin Dunn (Alan Reed), Ving Rhames (Duane Stevensen), Ben Kingsley (Vice President Nance), Charles Grodin (Murray Blum), Faith Prince (Alice), Laura Linney (Randi) and Bonnie Hunt (White House Tour Guide).


Sneakers (1992, Phil Alden Robinson)

Describing Ocean’s Eleven, Steven Soderbergh said he wanted to “make a movie that has no desire except to give you pleasure from beginning to end.”

He seems to have ripped off that idea from Sneakers.

Robert Redford is a lot more serious than I tend to think. So’s Paul Newman for that matter. We know the affable Redford from Butch Cassidy and The Sting, but really… those films aren’t about having fun. Sneakers is about having fun. Even Redford’s post-1990s career, post-Horse Whisperer, is missing the fun of this film. (Spy Game, of course, could have been fun, but wasn’t). Sneakers is about having fun.

To quote someone else–Quentin Tarantino this time–some films, once you get the story, you watch just to “hang out with [the characters].” This quote is another good description of Sneakers. I remember seeing the film when it came out, and in 1992, it was different to see Sidney Poitier in a fun movie, different to see Dan Aykroyd in something… good, different to see David Straithairn in a big Hollywood movie. Actually, that last one is bull–when I was fourteen, I had no idea who David Straithairn was… I mean, when Sneakers came out, Mary McDonnell was just the woman from Dances With Wolves. It was an event picture. It was back when an event picture didn’t have flying saucers. It was the new film from the director of Field of Dreams… it’s from a magical era that’s long gone (and only thirteen years ago).

The only time’s the film lags–and I do love Redford’s performance in this film, because it’s the same kind of performance Paul Newman gave in Slap Shot–is when Redford’s running the thing himself. It’s not about Redford, it’s about the chemistry between the cast. There’s a party scene in the film with six principals and two supporting characters and you feel every person’s presence at the party. It’s a great scene. It entertains and it’s beautifully constructed. I sat and marveled at how Robinson worked that whole scene out, giving each person the right thing to do for just the right amount of time.

Also indicative of the film’s era is the James Horner score. It’s from before he became Titanic composer James Horner and before anyone cared if he lifted his old material. It’s a playful score. Just great.

I can’t believe I was worried about this film’s quality.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Phil Alden Robinson; written by Lawrence Lasker, Walter F. Parkes and Robinson; director of photography, John Lindley; edited by Tom Rolf; music by James Horner; production designer, Patrizia von Brandenstein; produced by Parkes and Lasker; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Robert Redford (Bishop), Sidney Poitier (Donald Crease), David Strathairn (Whistler), Dan Aykroyd (Mother), River Phoenix (Carl Arbegast), Mary McDonnell (Liz), Ben Kingsley (Cosmo), Timothy Busfield (Dick Gordon), Eddie Jones (Buddy Wallace), Stephen Tobolowsky (Dr. Werner Brandes), Donal Logue (Dr. Gunter Janek) and James Earl Jones (Bernard Abbott).