Tag Archives: keira knightley

Review: ‘Misbehavior’

Keira Knightley, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Jessie Buckley, and Greg Kinnear star in a modern historical drama, directed by Philippa Lowthorpe. 

Timely in its relevance to the current cultural moment, yet also traditional in its narrative structure, Misbehaviour peers back some 50 years at a key event in the women’s liberation movement, when protestors disrupted the Miss World beauty contest in London, England. 

Directed by Philippa Lowthorpe (Swallows and Amazons, 2016), the film is based on true events and an original story by Rebecca Frayn (Luc Besson’s biographical drama The Lady, 2011), who also wrote the screenplay with Gaby Chiappe (Their Finest, 2016). The formula for modern historical dramas, whether intended for the large or small screen,  is quite well established by now: introduce sympathetic protagonist(s) and antagonistic figure(s), show how they are affected by major event(s), and demonstrate what effect they have upon the aforementioned major event(s). Roll credits. 

Sticking to that structure, Misbehaviour introduces the likable Sally Alexander (Keira Knightley), a woman defined in the eyes of men by her status as a single woman with a young daughter; the spiky Jo Robinson (Jessie Buckley), rebellious in nature and fiercely independent; the dignified Jennifer Hosten (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), constantly keeping her emotions in check; the officious Eric Morley (Rhys Ifans), creator and protector of the Miss World pageant; the dutiful Dolores Hope (Lesley Manville), long-suffering yet loyal; and the legendary comic Bob Hope (Greg Kinnear), desperately endeavoring to keep his career spinning past its ‘sell-by’ date. 

Sally’s scholastic days with blindly sexist fellow students and professors at a respected college and her domestic life with her live-in boyfriend, daughter, and very British, very traditional mother Evelyn (Phyllis Logan), is contrasted with Bob and Dolores Hope’s collapsed marital relationship, while Jennifer Hosten navigates carefully through the sexist world of the beauty pageant, which is also bound by racist attitudes and actions. Everyone is bound by the mores of the day; to what extent are they able — and willing — to protest or fight back for what they know is right? 

It’s all about degrees of capitulation, I suppose. In 2020, the actions taken some 50 years ago may seem relatively minor by modern standards, but Misbehaviour argues that’s not the case. The protests of that time eventually led to some much-needed changes in social and political thinking and activities, though a disturbingly large number of the justifiable complaints of unfair treatment have continued unabated. 

What effects can protesting a beauty pageant have? The answers are still rippling through time to our day. 

The film opens in select theaters nationwide and on VOD everywhere on September 25, via Shout! Studios. 

Review: ‘Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit,’ A Safe and Reliable Action Vehicle

Chris Pine in 'Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit'
Chris Pine in ‘Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit’
A creaky plot vehicle is covered up with a shiny coat of paint in Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, which reboots Tom Clancy’s fictional, cold-war CIA analyst for the post-9/11 age of terrorism. The movie travels a familiar route at moderate speed; it never breaks any rules, but neither does it suffer a fatal crash.

The fifth installment in the series — after The Hunt for Red October (1990), Patriot Games (1992), Clear and Present Danger (1994),
and The Sum of All Fears (2002) — reboots Jack Ryan (Chris Pine) as a young man who quits college to enlist in the U.S. Marines after 9/11. On a military mission in Afghanistan, he suffers a broken back, which sidelines him for many months of physical therapy. His heroic actions on the mission catch the attention of high-ranking intelligence agent Thomas Harper (Kevin Costner), who recruits him to work undercover in the financial industry.

Fast-forward to the modern day, and Jack is working as a compliance officer at a Wall Street financial institution and notices something is not quite right. His suspicions lead him to Moscow, where he has a deadly encounter with a gun-wielding henchman and encounters wealthy Russian businessman Viktor Cherevin (Kenneth Branagh), who is the mastermind of a plot that will bring the Western world to its knees.

Cue loud “duh duh duh” music.

Yup, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit wants to have it both ways: to exist in the Cold War days, when Soviet villains with thick accents had huge, almost entirely empty offices with 40-foot vault ceilings and mult-level floors, and plotted world domination; and to tap into modern, primal fears of financial collapse and terrorist attacks that threaten millions. Rather than choosing one extreme or the other, the plot incoporates both narrative threads, which means that much of the movie is spent with one character explaining to another (and to the audience) what is happening and why it’s important.

To avoid telling and not showing, however, all this talking takes place while the characters are running or driving or chasing the bad guys, often in a variety of motorized vehicles, up or down stairs or from side to side, a kind of breathless chant that works very, very hard to push the pace of the film forward. As he proved with Thor, Kenneth Branagh, who directed in addition to playing the Cold War Russian heavy, does not have his own signature style for staging action sequences, so he’s content to adapt the modern action aesthetic of fast-cutting to approximate motion and excitement. It doesn’t suceeed, of course — it rarely does nowadays — but he occasionally includes close-ups of the individuals involved, so at least we have some idea whose life is ostensibly in danger.

All this hurly and burly means that the film is not particularly involving — it’s too busy running to the next plot point to pause and reflect on The Meaning Of It All or What The Heck Is This Guy’s True Motivation For Killing Millions Of People or Why Must Every Important Secret In Every Movie And TV Show In The 21st Century Be Downloaded To A USB Device — but the time passes painlessly, and it occasionally threatens to burst into credibility.

The key members of the cast contribute to the feeling of competence about the movie. Chris Pine brings warmth and conviction to the “new” Jack Ryan, while Kevin Costner well-embodies a mentor who is still extremely capable. Keira Knightley is perhaps over-qualified, but perfectly capable in “the girlfriend role,” and Branagh directs himself with panache

Getting back to automotive comparisons, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit provides a fair degree of value as a rental vehicle. It’s safe and comfortable, but it doesn’t stand out in the flow of traffic.

The film opens wide throughout Dallas and Ft. Worth on Friday, January 17.

Review: ‘Seeking a Friend for the End of the World’ Disarms the Apocalypse

'Seeking a Friend for the End of the World' (Focus Features)
‘Seeking a Friend for the End of the World’ (Focus Features)

A disarmingly lighthearted, sweet, romantic approach to the Apocalypse is presented in Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, a film that wavers erratically until it settles into an altogether pleasing groove.

To be sure, the tone splashes deeper into a pool of traditional sentimentality as it progresses. And throughout, as the story shifts gears between the dryly amusing and the wistfully romantic, first-time feature director Lorene Scafaria struggles to keep the narrative engine on track, as though she were learning how to drive a manual transmission.

Scafaria’s screenplay, however, shares a comradery with Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, which she also scripted, in that it has a clear ambition to mix tonally-opposite elements in the same sequence. It’s a tricky dance, and though the film is not always as nimble as needed, it builds up a large reservoir of cheerful eccentricity early on, which smooths over the rough patches that develop as it makes its run for the exits.

The end of the world has always been fertile ground for filmmakers looking to make a statement, and Seeking a Friend is no different in that regard; Scafaria wants to Say Something About What’s Truly Important In Life. Its modest bearing, however, suggests sufficient self-knowledge that it’s only One Statement, not The Only Statement, saving the film from a ponderous, santimonious weight that might otherwise cripple it. And it helps that the film’s overriding concern is human-sized, a ground-level view of the varying reactions that might be expected if the date for the end of the world was fixed in stone and known to everyone.

Steve Carell is properly forlorn and despairing as an insurance salesman named Dodge, whose wife flees him on the night they hear the definitive word that a large asteroid will crash on Earth in three weeks, ending life as we know it. In shock, Dodge continues to report to work, as the world around him goes mad and his friends (Connie Britton, Rob Corddry, Patton Oswalt) shuck off all societal conventions and/or try to fix him up with a lady (Melanie Lynskey) so he won’t die alone.

Dodge is too filled with regrets to give into pleasures of the flesh, however, and he finds a fellow traveler in Penny (Keira Knightley), a neighbor who weeps with regret that she will never see her family in England again. A few contrivances later, and the regret-filled couple hit the road, Dodge to reunite with the lost love of his life and Penny to find a private plane that will take her home (the commercial airlines have shut down).

From there, Seeking a Friend becomes a more traditional road movie, allowing for cameos from the likes of William Petersen, Gillian Jacobs, Derek Luke, and others. While the episodic nature solidifies the film’s themes, it’s also in these passages that more conventional notions take hold, leading to a conclusion that was less than satisfying.

But that’s only from my perspective, of course. And even if the film ultimately proves to be less daring than it could have been, Carell and Knightley make for amusing, yes, friendly company as the doomsday clock winds down to zero.

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World opens wide across the Metroplex on Friday, June 22..

Review: ‘A Dangerous Method’

Viggo Mortensen and Michael Fassbender in 'A Dangerous Method' (Sony Pictures Classics)
Viggo Mortensen and Michael Fassbender in 'A Dangerous Method' (Sony Pictures Classics)

A new film by David Cronenberg is always reason to celebrate, but ‘A Dangerous Method’ dampens expectations, offering up a curiously muted object, one to be admired rather than embraced, a fascinating academic discussion that remains resolutely distant from any sort of easy interaction.

Centering around Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender), the story takes up his life at a point where the young psychiatrist is drawing favorable attention from Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen), the father of psychoanalysis. When they meet for the first time, they easily talk the night away, the hours racing by like minutes. Jung is willing to (respectfully) challenge Freud, who enjoys the intellectectual curiosity of the younger man.

What serves to highlight their increasing differences of opinion is the case of Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley), a young Russian woman who arrives with a bundle of tics and spasms to receive care from Jung and his revolutionary new “talking cure” method of treatment. Freud sees every psychiatric problem as a manifestation of sexual issues, while Jung believes that doctors should get at whatever the root causes of aberrant behavior prove to be.

At least, that’s what I got out of it. Lacking a foundation of knowledge about Jung, Freud, psychiatry, or psychoanalysis, ‘A Dangerous Method’ comes across as very impersonal. It seems determined to address only a limited audience, and takes a low-key, quiet approach in the conveyance of information and (presumably key) plot points and character revelations.

More than incidental pleasures can be found in the performances of Viggo Mortensen and Michael Fassbender. Mortensen’s impersonation of Freud is spirited and sly, suggesting a man who is well aware of his own position in the community, and only open to new ideas up to a point, a point that might threaten his standing and/or reputation.

Fassbender, in what is for him an (almost) straightforward lead role, embodies the personality of a principled man who struggles through various crises. First he must deal with his sexual attraction to a patient, while maintaining emotional fidelity to his devoted wife Emma (Sarah Gadon). Then he must contend with the challenges thrown at him by Otto Gross (Vincent Cassel), a psychiatrist with new, bracing ideas about psychoanalysis, coming from his own personal experience. And he must come to terms with the chasm that develops between him and his mentor, Freud.

Definitely worthy of investigation by fans of Cronenberg, Fassbender, and Mortensen, ‘A Dangerous Method’ may play better on repeat viewings, but even a single viewing will reward the dedicated psychoanalytic movie buff.

‘A Dangerous Method’ is now playing at Angelika Dallas and Angelika Plano.