Tag Archives: Ben Kingsley

The Red Sea Diving Resort

In the 1970s, Captain America went to Africa disguised as Captain Israel, where he assembled a crack team of Super Jews, including a harpoon-wielding Hawkeye and a Black Widow with feathered bangs.

Well, okay, that’s not exactly how it happened, and it DID mostly happen.

Ethiopian Jews were being slaughtered in their homes in the late 70s and early 80s, so Mossad agents led families on a 1000km walk to Sudan where, if they survived the journey, they became refugees waiting to be taken to Jerusalem, which was the tricky part. Sudan was receiving a stipend from the UN for each refugee they took in. The refugees starved, but the Sudanese government was not interested in losing easy money. In order to smuggle them out, the Mossad agents posed as hoteliers, actually running a resort, to remove Ethiopians by sea, toward a waiting Israeli Navy Seal ship.

The crew is run by Ari (a bearded Chris Evans), a reckless agent known for running into danger without a plan for getting out. Always by his side, the very courageous local Kabede (Michael Kenneth Williams), for whom this is not a mission but very simply life.

Anyway, I callously poked fun at the casting of Captain America in this film, but it is a genuine problem. Not Chris Evans per se – he’s fine. He’s just too identifiably heroic, and the camera knows it. The story is infatuated with the idea of this rescue mission and it pumps up the hero aspect to 11 while disregarding their humanity. We know the group’s Black Widow (ie, only female component, played by Haley Bennett) is a mother and that she has left her child(ren?) behind for months or years in order to help save strangers but literally nothing is made of it. Who is she? How does she cope? How do the kids? Where are the kids? Ari is also a father, with an ex-wife who is already tired of his bullshit before this story even begins. His backstory is almost as empty as Black Widow’s, but his guilt is exculpated by a crayon drawing that implies his daughter forgives him for his repeated abandonment. What I’m saying is: the Avengers are super heroes who are just doing their jobs. In this case, the Mossad agents are real people with real loved ones and lives back home that they’ve sacrificed in order to save people, not from Loki or Ultron or Thanos, but from genocide, a less-glamourous, real-world problem that most people look away from. But the movie takes the one thing that it’s got going for it and ignores it almost completely.

Okay, scrub that: the film had 2 potential things going for it – the heroes, sure, but also the victims. Because these Ethiopian refugees are perhaps the true heroes of this story, and maybe any story. I’ve always thought that, as bloated as End Game was, the only story I was really interested in is the one they never told – that of normal people on Earth, those left behind by the snap, and those who disappeared because of it. What is their experience? Such a global, world-shifting event deserves some story-telling but never got any (they failed to even really touch on it in Spiderman Far From Home, disappointingly). But in this case, the Ethiopians escape with little else besides their lives, and know they are lucky to have that much. Many are missing children and spouses and parents. Many will lose more along the arduous journey, only to end up in a crowded, unhygienic camp where their bodies are worth money to their captors, so they are given just barely the means to stay alive. And that’s only half the trip: next they’re going to smuggled past armed check points, onto rubber rafts, and raced through the choppy waves of the Red Sea onto vessels that will sail them into a new life, one so different as to be unimaginable from their straw hut lives in Ethiopia. Now that’s a story. But by all means let’s eschew that for more of Michiel Huisman in a speedo.

So yeah, The Red Sea Diving Resort fails to overcome the same tired old tropes. It feels like a compilation of other movies you’ve already seen, but not a best-of compilation, more like a cross-section of the just-okay bits. Which is a weird compilation, I’ll grant you that. Who’d want to watch it? Not me. Not really. Not even for a bearded Chris Evans, still very much in Captain America mode.

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Operation Finale

This movie is a tribute to the unsung heroes of post-WW2 Nazi hunting.

When notorious SS agent (the architect of the final solution, no less) Adolf Eichmann suddenly pops up on the radar, Israel puts a crack team of secret agents on the case. Peter Malkin, in particular, is the loose cannon of the operation, but ten short years after the war, emotions run high for the whole team because everyone who wasn’t in a camp personally lost someone, or several someones, or everyone to Germany’s ethnic cleansing machine.

MV5BNGQ0YmVkMWItOGVlYS00ZWE2LWFhOTgtYzk1ZTAyZGQ5ZjFjXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTc5OTMwOTQ@._V1_Malkin (Oscar Isaac) and company manage to pick up Eichmann (Ben Kingsley) thanks in part to his indiscreet son who still hates Jews all the way from Argentina. They sweat it out in a safe house. For safe travel they require Eichmann’s signature, and Malkin vows to get it. The interrogation is heated; Eichmann is emotionally manipulative and he knows exactly which buttons to push. The agents have agreed to bring him back to Israel for a public trial, but not killing him proves to be a very big challenge for almost every single one of them. Eichmann knows this trial is not likely to rule in his favour, so he delays endlessly, which is also to the benefit of the Nazi rescue party determined to find him.

Oscar Isaac is terrific, of course. Malkin plays it cool, almost sympathetic, but he’s always on the verge of an emotional outburst. Isaac draws a haunted man, bent under the weight of his own grief, and the loss of a whole nation. Ben Kingsley strikes the exact right chord – reprehensible. His hypocrisy rankles. I felt it so personally it was easy to feel for the agents and to admire them for their restraint. But overall, director Chris Weitz’s ability to humanize his characters makes for some very watchable performances.

The scenes between Isaac and Kingsley are the best the film has to offer. Operation Finale is otherwise a little still, a little familiar, a little predictable. It has good intentions but you see them coming from a mile away.  At times it can be surprisingly complacent for a ‘thriller’. It’s an Argo wannabe that doesn’t quite achieve its potential, but it’s nice to hear from this side of history, and it’s fantastic to see Kingsley do what he does best.

 

War Machine

This movie intends to satirize the American war in Afghanistan and I suppose it manages to land a few punches, but it’s so cartoonish the film gets bled of any real bite. Brad Pitt plays ‘Obama’s General’, 4-star Glen McMahon (a placeholder for Stanley McChrystal), the guy brought in to win a war his own country started, so of course when things to go to shit, he gets a disproportionate amount of the blame.

War Machine reminds us that war is won by men, but it’s the men in suits who run this MV5BMjQzMzUzNzY3Nl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMDA5ODI0MjI@._V1_CR0,59,640,360_AL_UX477_CR0,0,477,268_AL_war, not men in uniform. Politicians run things but don’t bother to check in with the men on the ground, who are operating on the basis of “counter-insurgency”, a losing proposition each and every time. The soldiers can’t distinguish between the enemy and the people they’re trying to protect. The war is a clusterfuck but so is this lazy attempt at satire.

It looks like it was filmed with a $400 budget and the same can-do American spirit that kept sending more troops to an unwinnable war (at two hours, it’s much too long to have said so little, and not long enough to have left any impression). The voice-over is straight out of a Lifetime movie (it’s meant to be the Rolling Stone journalist who got poor McMahon fired in the end – an unnecessary and cheesy device). And Brad Pitt is doing an awful voice like he’s trying to convince you it’s not really him. It feels like a gross miscalculation on Pitt’s part: the weird growl, the caricature-ish squint, it’s all a little too much to make the General feel flesh and blood.

The script isn’t smart enough and the film offers no insight. And even though it’s a mess, it makes 2009 look kind of quaint compared to 2017, which is the most depressing sin of all.

Learning To Drive

Like many 16 year olds, I was at the DMV the morning of my birthday, aced the test, and had my learner’s permit burning a hole in my pocket by noon, when I unwrapped a tiny box, a gift from my mother. It was a key chain with a little red convertible with real functioning head lights on one hand, and a key dangling off the other. “Don’t get too excited,” said my mother, but I knew. I knew it was a key to the family Ford Aerostar, a hideous forest-green hulking rust monster, but I loved it all the same.

But that key never got put into an ignition. Not for days and weeks and months. I was the oldest and my mother was having none of that. Teach a teenager to drive? No thank you. So the task S730830122222would fall to my crazy abusive father, right in the throes of their dirty, nasty divorce. So after my first lesson with him left me shaking and hurting on the side of the road, I chose not to repeat. I’d saved up babysitting money  (two dollars and 50 gruelling cents an hour, thankyouvermuch) to go to driver’s ed, and so twice a week my grandmother would drive wayyyy out to my country-bumpkin school, pick me up, give me lemonade in a mayonnaise jar and cookies in an old pharmacy bag, and drive me very very slowly into the city for my lessons.

What I learned first and foremost was that driving instructors are sexist. But when my lessons ended, so did my driving. Mom still wasn’t having it and dad was a lost cause. So I was a non-driving spaz, until suddenly the expiry date was upon and if I let it lapse, I’d not only have to start over, I’d have to repay as well, which you might be noticing was not really an option for me at the time. So what I did was: I broke the law. My great friend Anna took me out in her parents’ van and let me practice once or twice. A learner’s permit means you can only drive with a 1329492434321_9055156licensed, adult driver, but what choice did I have? So I went to get my G-2 having only ever driven a couple of times, and almost never in the car I was testing in. I told almost no one, certain I would fail, but of course Anna had blabbed to my whole history class in my absence and it was goddamn good thing that I passed when my teacher put me on the spot.

And then I didn’t drive again for a decade. I moved away to a big city for University. I didn’t have a car, couldn’t have afforded to even park a car. A few years later the third installment of the graduated licensing testing came up and I couldn’t even afford that. So I let it lapse. The truth was, it wasn’t just the money. It was also the fear. I’d taken all the anxiety of driving with my father and blamed cars instead of him. I believed that I “couldn’t” drive, that I was worthless, and I was stuck. I moved to an even bigger city and wouldn’t have had a car no matter what. It was pedestrian-friendly, which I love, and transit-supporting, which I navigated well.

But then I moved back here to Ottawa and got a reality check in the form of a bus driver strike. I was surprised to have my independence taken away so easily, and as the strike went on, week after week, in the frigid Canadian winter, I was also in danger of losing my livelihood. Cabs were impossible to get. The city was being held hostage. I thankfully had a good-hearted boyfriend who threw kinks into his own schedule in order to negotiate mine. But I made a new year’s resolution to learn to drive, and then hyperventilated for months at the mere thought of it. But then I signed up for a couple of lessons and went for my test and: passed. Of course I’m leaving 206out the copious vomiting and panic attacks. Assume lots of both. Imagine the puddles I left in parking lots across the city! To celebrate, I went out two days later and bought myself a little bug. I still had anxiety, and nearly getting killed when someone ran a red light didn’t help. But I’ve had three bugs in a row (Gloria, Emma, Ruby), cute, zippy little cars, and you know what I drive today? A little red convertible. Life is like that.

Of course, the movie Learning To Drive neglects to mention any of my fraught personal experience with driving. But it is about Patricia Clarkson, who needs to learn to drive homepage_LearningtoDrive-2015-1particularly after her husband leaving her means not just curbing her independence but the shrinkage of her world. Luckily Ben Kingsley aggressively offers her driving lessons, whether she’s ready for them or not. His arranged marriage really calls her own feelings about marriage into question. The plot, if you can call it that, is a bit predictable. But it’s also languid and full-bodied. It’s not a dazzler but Clarkson and Kingsley would make almost anything worthwhile. This is a film for adults, and Christ, I guess that means I am one. Goes down well with a bottle of wine.

 

Sidebar: one of my favourite bits of the movie is when Patricia Clarkson can’t quite see herself in a red car. “What would it say about me?” she asks, and Ben Kingsley whispers in her ear “Don’t fuck with me.” Her smirk says she’s sold. So what does the colour of your car say about you?

Gold: Warm, intelligent, glamorous

Dark green: Well-Balanced, trustworthy, traditional

Light green: Organic, no-fuss, understated

Yellow: Joyful, sense of humor, sunny disposition, risk-taker

Brown: Powerful, unique, no-nonsense

Beige: Natural, down-to-earth

Orange: Artistic, individual, complex, charming

Light-mid blue: Calm, faithful, true, stable
Dark blue: Confident, credible, authoritative, dependable

Gray: Neutral, sober, practical

Red: Sensual, dynamic, outgoing (vibrant red = bold personality, a go-getter & confident; maroon or wine colour = more subtle)

Silver: Futuristic, prestigious, elegant, maybe a little pretentious

Pearl: Glamorous, exciting, sophisticated

White: Pure, pristine, direct; fresh, young & modern

Black: Powerful, classic, elegant

No Escape\No Surrender

No Escape: Owen Wilson plays a father who is sent overseas to an unnamed Asian country (the “fourth-world according to fake-wife Lake Bell) to help build their waterworks. Of course, his 75family’s arrival coincides terribly with a coup within this country, and an uprising of the people, particularly against foreigners who have taken over – you got it, their waterworks. So Owen Wilson has to call on reserves of badassery he didn’t know he had to get his wife and two daughters to safety. And he fails. So thank god for Pierce Brosnan who saves his ass a number of times, but sadly, not innumerably. There is a limit, and it will keep you on the edge of you god damned seat. Actually, that’s the one thing this movie does really, really well: it’s 98% adrenaline rush. The tension is taut, relentless, masterful. There’s only about 1m30s where you breathe comfortably, and that’s only because you know a bad thing is coming and you can just kind of be zen about it.

Sean didn’t really care for it. This might be a knock on Owen Wilson’s manhood (try not to picture me knocking on his semi-erect penis), but Sean just didn’t think this guy was up to the task. He also didn’t think the situation was believable in the first place – that a group of Americans would just be left to fend for themselves, and that IF they were, for some odd reason, that Owen Wilson of all people could keep anyone alive for more than maybe 5 minutes or so. no-escape-pierce-brosnan-owen-wilson-slice-600x200And given some of the choices this guy makes, I have to agree. I was also annoyed by the kids. The truth is, as actors they were pretty impressive. But I find kids in these kinds of thrillers to just be god-awful. They’re always making noise when they shouldn’t, defying direct orders, coming out of hiding places, squawking, refusing to do what’s necessary, complaining about having to go potty, or that they’re hungry, or that their favourite doll got left behind. And if you’ve got a wife who’s kind of whiny too, it’s not long before I’m yelling at the screen: “Leave them behind! You can start a new family later! Second spouses are the best!” And once I start yelling that kind of shit at the screen, game over.

An interesting tidbit: Ruth at Flix Chatter wrote a really interesting piece on the Dowdle brothers, who happen to be the writers\director of this film. She always does a great job, but this interview really caught my eye and if you have any interest at all, I’m sure you’ll feel the same.

We saw this movie at the drive-in, and as always, it’s a double bill. Truth time: the title is a lie. The second movie was actually Self\less, and it was worst than the first. And not just because the hicks in the car beside us, windows rolled down so we could hear them puzzle out each scene incorrectly, spoiled the whole thing by not understanding it in the least but loudly offering their idiotic theories.

Self\less is about a wealthy business magnate played by Ben Kingsley, who is on his deathbed when he gets an ashow_filenonymous tip: there may be a way out of this death thing. Turns out, if you are brilliant enough and have several hundreds of millions of dollars (let’s dwell on that for a bit: Several. HUNDREDS. Of millions. Of dollars.), you can pay this mad scientist to fake your death and transplant your “self” into a healthy young body grow in a lab. This scientist is just so selfless himself, apart from the payday, that he doesn’t want to deprive the world of the most elite idea makers. The catch? No one can know. You say goodbye to your whole life and live as this other person. So, in effect, the plot has already shot itself in the foot because when Ben Kingsley wakes up in Ryan Reynolds’ body, he can’t just walk back to the Kingsley empire and untitledhelm the ship. Kingsley is dead to the world, and Reynolds is a nobody who is frankly ready for retirement, except for getting a few quick pieces of hot ass (and who can blame him?) The other catch? (C’mon, there’s ALWAYS another catch!): a lifetime of pills. The pills keep Ryan Reynolds at bay. Because the scientist lied. This isn’t some body grown in lab, it’s a murdered man whose “self” keeps surfacing, with flashbacks of his life, wife, and daughter. Awkward!

This movie is interesting in theory but decides to spit on the philosophical implications and just go for cheap thrills and action instead.

Gandhi

I spend a lot of my movie-watching time with old movies- “classics” as most DVD rental stores call them, so I thought I would post some online reviews of films that have been around longer than online reviews to see how well they hold up. This week I rented Richard Attenborough’s 1983 Academy Award for Best Picture Winner Gandhi, a movie I’ve always meant to see because I thought I “should” but never got around to. Maybe it was it’s 190 minute running time. But I sat through Interstellar twice over the last two weeks so I decided I was ready.

This is, of course, the story of Mohandas K Gandhi, who I’ll assume needs no introduction, beginning in South Africa in 1893 until his death in 1948. So, 55 years of history over 3 hours. Get comfortable.

What it’s lost with age. Or maybe this was always a problem. I was a year old when Gandhi was originally released and my parents wouldn’t take me to see it at the time as much as I begged. Watching it today though, I thought Attenborough’s perfectly understandable reverence for his subject might have gotten in the way. Gandhi is potrayed more as saint than complex human being and we never really understand why he did the things he did. I’m not usually one to complain about length but it is tough to hold an audience’s attention for three hours when the main character does nothing but humble and self-sacrificing things.

What still holds up. Gandhi is played by Ben Kingsley (Sir Ben now but back then I think it was just Ben). Ben won a well-deserved Oscar for the part, beating out Tootsie’s Dustin Hoffman who ironically turned down the chance to play Gandhi, making me shudder to think how bad this movie could have been. As both the young hopeful Gandhi and the exhausted and starving older one, Ben’s eyes, voice, and posture are almost perfect. His performance is by far the best reason to see this movie.

Nice surprise for modern audiences. Early in the film, Gandhi is stopped on the street and mocked by three young punks (although they probably wouldn’t have been called that in the 1800s). My first thought was “These guys are so over the top. They have to be the worst actors in the entire movie”. My second thought was “Is that Daniel Day-Lewis?” It was. I guess everybody has to start somewhere.

Bottom line. When I’m watching a movie about a real guy, I tend not to like movies that try to cover too much. 55 years is a lot and I would have liked a movie that focused on a smaller, more manageable window in greater detail. Still, the old school production (real human extras instead of CGI ones, for example) give you that “they don’t make ’em like this anymore” feeling. And then there’s those performances. Ben Kingsley at his best, Daniel Day-Lewis at his worst. Who could ask for more?