On my mind… Rebecca Hall

Born on 19 May 1982, Rebecca Maria Hall is a few months older than me. That fact isn’t significant in itself, it’s just one of the little ways I like to think that I identify with her.

She’s the daughter of theatre director and founder of the Royal Shakespeare Company, Peter Hall, and opera singer, Maria Ewing. Her siblings include theatre directors, designers, writers and painters. So it’s fair to say she’s from a creative background.

And looks wise, she’s striking. A sort of classic yet contemporary English rose. However, it’s worth noting that, whilst she has an English father, her American mother is of Dutch, Scottish, Sioux and African-American origin which, let’s face it, just makes her even more interesting.

Then there’s her acting. starterfortenSince breaking onto the scene with the first film in my list below, she’s quickly gone from strength to strength, picking her roles in a savvy way. She exudes a natural intelligence that’s hard to hide in the parts she plays (not that it needs to be hidden). Here’s my pick of her top performances:

Starter for Ten (2006)
It says something when gorgeous Miss Hall is cast as the geek. Alice Eve played the sexy one in the sweet, coming-of-age tale, yet it’s Hall’s performance we warm to as the wonderfully endearing love interest to James McAvoy’s rather annoying central character, Brian.

The Prestige (2006)
A magic trick has three parts: the pledge, the turn and the prestige. Did this role represent Hall’s ‘pledge’? Well, it was somewhat of a showcase and a big step up career wise invicky-cristina-barcelona-vicky-cristina-barcelona-08-10-2008-05-09-2008-17-g Chistopher Nolan’s convoluted and rather tragic tale of two rival magicians. And Hall more than held her own as the long suffering wife of Christian Bale’s magician.

Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008)
Making something of a name for herself playing ‘second fiddle’ to more overtly glamorous women (Alice Eve in Starter for Ten, Scarlett Johansson and Penelope Cruz here) she shone in this movie – one of the best from Woody Allen in recent years – and gave her character real warmth; a performance which got her a Golden Globe nomination.

The Town (2010)
Another role playing the love interest of a mildly conflicted protagonist. This time opposite Ben Affleck’s sensitive bank robber. The film received strong praise for the ensemble performance of its cast, no doubt in part down to Hall’s convincing performance.

Next up for Miss Hall?

Transcendence – UK release 25 April 2014
Wally Pfister, long time cinematographer of Christopher Nolan, steps up to direct for the first time with this one: featuring leads Johnny Depp and one… Rebecca Hall. Another leap forward career wise, opposite one of cinema’s most bankable stars in this sci-fi thriller.

Take your ass back to the trailer park – part 3

Noah-director-Aronofsky-tweets-up-a-storm-4J21KFSF-x-largeIt’s January and the skies and cold and grey.’ Good line for a song? Perhaps if we turn it around. ‘It’s January and the skies are cold and grey, but it’s warm inside the cinema and therefore we shall stay… and watch many films.’

Ok the rhyme needs work but you get the idea. Escapism is the word of the day – and with many exciting films in front of us, I thought another ‘trailer park’ rundown is in order. Some of these are out soon, some we’ll have to wait. Don’t blame me, go read a book or something.

The Invisible Woman (February 2014)
Who likes a period drama and a love story? Here we have the tale of Charles Dickens (the legendary Ralph Fiennes) and his secret mistress (the gorgeous Felicity Jones). I’m not a huge fan of this genre, but I like the two leads and we may as well start the year on a classy note.


Noah
(March 2014)
What’s this? Darren Aranofsky turning his hand to the tale of a man with a wooden arc and a bunch of animals that go in two by two? Hurrah! Ray Winstone is in it? Oh god. Oh Noah. Before you panic just watch the trailer. It looks epic and has promise.


Transcendence
(April 2014)
Moving out of Christopher Nolan’s shadow his former cinematographer, Wally Pfister, takes the helm of this sci-fi thriller. Featuring two great leads, Johnny Depp and Rebecca Hall, this screenplay made the famous Hollywood ‘blacklist’ in 2012, and looks quite the spectacle.


The Other Woman
(April 2014)
Before it all gets too serious, how about a comedy? Cameron Diaz and Leslie Mann in a sort of buddy girl anti rom-com, which actually looks quite funny. Oh… and someone has finally cast Kate Upton in a film. If that doesn’t cheer you up this month there’s no hope.


Sabotage
(April 2014)
Yeah Arnie! And he’s got a cigar and a gun! You can tell I’m getting excited now right? This won’t just be a big dumb blockbuster though. It’s directed by David Ayer (the man behind Training Day and End of Watch) so should be smart to boot.


Jupiter Ascending
(July 2014)
Another epic beast here that puts me in mind of Cloud Atlas… and then I read the Wachowski siblings were behind it. They directed Cloud Atlas and the Matrix films, keep up. Seems they’ve decided to finally let their imaginations off the leash, and that’s really no bad thing.


Interstellar
(November 2014)
It’s great to see, particularly after Batman, Christopher Nolan going the other way, at least with his trailer, keeping it simple. This film sees a bunch of space travellers head through a wormhole. Plot details are shady, but it involves time travel and dimensions… maybe.

Black lays Stark comically bare for Iron Man 3

You have to hand it to Shane Black, he’s got me torn in a good and bad way. There’s no questioning his screenplay skills, the man can write.

Past work includes Lethal Weapon 1-4, The Long Kiss Goodnight and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, the latter being his directorial debut. Yet I feel this latest instalment in the mandarinbenkingsleyIron Man franchise, whilst generally good, may have missed a trick or two.

Plot wise, this picks up soon after the events of Avengers. Tony is in a bad way suffering from post traumatic stress disorder; nightmares, flashbacks, panic attacks and the like.

Then, to kick him whilst he’s down, The Mandarin (Sir Ben Kingsley) appears on the scene; a shadowy, terrorist-type figure, taking credit for a series of bombings, issuing death threats to the President – that sort of thing.

One bombing results in the injury of Tony’s former bodyguard Happy (Jon Favreau), which is the last straw. With a ‘come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough’, Tony tells The Mandarin to pay him a visit, which he duly does with attack helicopters and missiles.

Iron-Man-3-PepperWith his house in ruins and precious iron suit out of power, Tony is stripped back to his wits and surroundings to fight back – much in the way he was in the original. Although this time in snowy Tennessee in winter, as opposed to a sandy cave in the Middle East.

Throw the suave and sophisticated Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) and former flame Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall) in the mix, as a pair trying to convince Stark Enterprises to buy into their ‘extremis’ product  (an experimental regenerative treatment) and you’ve got the basis for a rip-roaring film. Let’s face it, anything would be an improvement on Iron Man 2 at this point.

Happily, Black largely delivers. He’s known for sharp, witty one-liners – not only from the main cast, but minor characters too – so iron-man-3-review Stark should suit him down to the ground. I say should, as there’s a few minor quibbles that stop this being a truly great superhero flick.

First off, what’s with everything being a back-to-basics origin story these days? Batman and Bond ‘went dark’, with Thor: The Dark World and Man of Steel appearing to follow suit. Seems hero characters are all being stripped back with Hollywood saying ‘We must have an origin story or people won’t buy into it!’ Not true.

Luckily it’s not all darkness, Black is a dab hand at a quick, witty lines to lift the tone. However, to nit pick somewhat, you could argue he uses this skill a bit too much. Yes, play to your strengths, but there were times when dramatic tone was needed mayahansento build tension and Black retreated to his comfort zone with an amusing line and the moment was lost.

This was clear to see when Tony suffered from anxiety attacks frequently early on, but these were often dismissed or trivialised by other characters and the scene quickly moved on. Surely there was more mileage in exploring his mental state more thoroughly? It would have added depth to Stark’s character.

Rebecca Hall as Maya Hansen was an intriguing character and got me thinking maybe she’d add depth to Stark’s journey, yet Black shied away from exploring this too. Kingsley’s Mandarin was similarly short-changed on the dramatic front. Most surprising, given the calibre of these actors the director had at his disposal.

That aside, Black more than delivers on action and humour – perfect for this character – yet perhaps falls short when it comes to dramatic depth. As a result we’re left with the funniest Iron Man to date – the extra comedy putting it on par with the original – but you’re left feeling that, instead of another gag, more substance at times would have been more refreshing.

Let’s leave you with classic Black, ‘This isn’t good cop bad cop, this is fag and New Yorker.’

[Interesting links]
Crash, bang, wallop – Shane Black action movie masterclass
Iron Man – behind the scenes

Ben Affleck: a directorial phoenix emerges!

the town

I’ve had a disastrous morning. Not the most upbeat way to start a post, but hang in there. I dropped a full jar of honey on the floor which shattered. Honey and glass is impossible to clean up. Then banged my heel in the shower, spilt hot tea on my leg, lost half my breakfast in the toaster – the part I salvaged I managed to push off my plate onto the table with aggressive cutting!

And so, on to this post. As you might guess it’s about Affleck’s rise from the ashes of an acting career to become a directorial force to be reckoned with – much to the surprise of many. The reason for mentioning my morning mishaps is I hope this piece becomes my salvation – that I rise from the flames resplendent, with no more disasters for the rest of the day. I want to become the phoenix! Ahem, let’s move on.

So last night I watched Gone Baby Gone – another ‘been on my list for a while’ film. As expected, it’s really good. I’ve ended up watching the films Affleck has directed in reverse order, having seen The Town a while ago. Both are set in Boston and deal with crime and family. Both are brilliant – suspenseful, thrilling and wholly engrossing throughout.

gone baby goneGone Baby Gone (2007)
If you’ve not seen this, it’s a crime mystery drama based on a book by Dennis Lehane – author of two other titles that have been turned into impressive films, Mystic River and Shutter Island. The latter superbly directed by Scorsese and features a career-high performance by DiCaprio.

In terms of plot, it features Casey Affleck (Ben’s younger brother) as a private investigator hired to find a missing girl. Faced with the challenges of working with distrustful cops (Ed Harris and Morgan Freeman), drug dealers and other lowlifes – his relationship with his co-worker and partner Angie (Michelle Monaghan) becomes strained as the investigation progresses. There are twists, turns and revelations and, whilst the plot is complex, it’s worth paying attention to the end.

Affleck (senior) gives the Boston setting a grittiness and believability and gets a great performance out his younger brother. Who said siblings can’t work together? I’ve had my doubts about Casey Affleck, he’s always seemed quite a closed book in terms of being an expressive actor. Now I understand his appeal. He gives a truly impressive performance, particularly showing suppressed emotion – one of the hardest things to convincingly portray for an actor. He’s also highly believable as a normal Boston guy in a tense, dangerous situation. The action never feels fake or Hollywood, a lot of this is down to Casey’s talent as much as older brother Ben’s direction.

This film suffered a little on release due to the subject matter and art imitating life, particularly in the UK where the disappearance of a girl that looked almost identical to the one in the film meant release was pushed back. This should take nothing away from it, this is a well told, well acted, well directed film – particularly from a debut Director.

Incidentally, if we’re talking Lehane adaptations, it’s worth noting that it’s less depressing than Mystic River and not as thrilling or scary as Shutter Island – sitting perhaps inbetween the two as a good, solid crime mystery. Worth your time.

The Town (2010)
Is this a companion piece to Gone Baby Gone? Maybe it should be packaged up as a Boston crime trilogy boxset with The Departed? Anyway, Affleck’s directorial debut set him up nicely to direct this tale of bank-robbing in the heart of Boston’s Charlestown – a place that accounts for over 300 robberies a year.

As well as directing, Affleck starred as the leader of the gang who decides to keep watch on bank manager (Rebecca Hall), as she could potentially identify him following his gang’s last job. As he begins to fall for her romantically he has to deal with volatile partner (the excellent Jeremy Renner) and evade capture from FBI detective (John Hamm).

the townFor me, this film had a lot of similarities with Michael Mann’s Heat, or the opening robbery sequence in Chris Nolan’s The Dark Knight. At least in terms of epic, realistic gun battles in broad daylight and the cat-and-mouse game between cop (Hamm) and robber (Affleck). High praise you might say, but justified.

How Affleck found the time to act in this as well as get great performances out of a cast including Blake Lively, Rebecca Hall, John Hamm and Jeremy Renner I’ll never know. Renner was astonishing – all coiled up, explosive rage and intensity.

If you compare Affleck’s two directorial outings so far, I prefer The Town. It’s a simpler story than Gone Baby Gone, but more exciting and thrilling. Both are very good films though. Which leads us on to Affleck’s latest…

Argo (2012)
Hard for me to say too much about this as it’s only just come out at the cinema. The plot tells the story of a real life CIA mission in 1980 to rescue six American diplomats from revolutionary Iran, by posing as a Canadian film crew and staging a fake film in the country.

It’s got an interesting cast. As well as Affleck, it includes Bryan Cranston (from TV show Breaking Bad), John Goodman and Alan Arkin. Quite a departure from Affleck’s first two films, so it will be interesting to see how he handles it.

I’ll finish with the trailer below so you can judge for yourself. First impressions suggest it’s positioning itself as a serious thriller with comic elements. Almost like a grown-up version of Ocean’s Eleven. What do you think?