Tag Archives: Ben Mendelsohn

Spies In Disguise

I don’t know if you heard, but Special Agent Lance Sterling (Will Smith) is a lone wolf. He doesn’t work in teams, the world’s greatest spy kicks butt solo. He’s a little peeved when he’s in the middle of a 70 on 1 situation and what he thinks is a grenade turns out to be a glitter bomb. It works but he’s cranky about it, and he wants Walter (Tom Holland), the young tech officer involved, fired.

But Lance has some bigger problems: internal affairs accuses him of stealing the very weapon he was in charge of recovering. He knows he’s innocent, but he’ll need to disappear to prove it, and there’s only one person who can help him: Walter. If it’s at all awkward to ask the guy you just had fired for a favour, Lance doesn’t show it. He’s an incredibly cool customer. But Walter, an inventor since childhood, has all kinds of next generation concealment tech at hand. The very future of espionage! Unfortunately, Lance’s arrogance gets him in trouble once again when he accidentally chugs a potion that will turn him into a pigeon. Technically speaking it gets the job done – he’s not invisible but he’s definitely unrecognizable. If you thought dashing hero and geeky sidekick were an odd couple, try nerd and pigeon on for size.

Spies In Disguise is an easily digestible, fast-paced children’s movie with limited appeal for adults. These spies take on villains just like James Bond but unlike 007, they’ll do it without violence; Walter’s gadgets and indeed his personal credo are more about helping people than hurting them.

The film is propped up by an impressive voice cast, including Reba McIntire, Rashida Jones, Karen Gillan, and Ben Mendelsohn. But the major lifting is done by Tom Holland – affable, eager, guileless Tom Holland, who also voices a major character in Disney-Pixar’s Onward, both roles handily done in the gung-ho American accent he’s perfected playing Spidey, much of his fan base perhaps shocked to learn he’s actually English. At any rate, he is indeed the stand-out actor in Spies in Disguise and his character is the real hero, showing the veterans in his field that there IS a better way, which is a welcome message for young audiences.

Top 10 Star Wars Capes

Edna Mode is a fashion designer to the stars, and by stars I mean super heroes. She is the bespeckled wonder responsible for suiting up The Incredibles and she has one golden rule: no capes. Clearly no one in a certain galaxy far, far away cares to follow this little nugget of common sense. There are capes nearly everywhere you look. Every dramatic exit is done with the flourish of a cape. So even though we can all agree they’re a stupid sartorial choice, let’s indulge ourselves with an ode to Star Wars’s sweeping capes and the people who wear them.

[By the way: did you know Sean and are watching 24 hours of Star Wars movies? What else could inspire such a post?]

10. Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill): Luke is not normally prone to capes and yet this teeny tiny glimpse of one could just as easily held the #1 spot as #10. It’s part of his big reveal and proves a flair for the dramatic runs in the family.

9. Bail Organa (Jimmy Smits, Episodes I-III): as a Senator, Bail Organa indulges a certain stateliness. This guy’s got more than one cape in his closet and he doesn’t care who knows. You might start to think that the Rebel Alliance might have been more successful had they only cut all the capes – I bet you could build a death star or two for the price of their dry cleaning bill.

8. General Grievous (Episode III): I can’t help but feel that this dude wears such a suspiciously huge cape that someone should have guessed that he was hiding something underneath. In fact, I am routinely surprised and disappointed by what the so-called Force fails to pick up. Some pretty big stuff, to be honest, that even your average intuition could have detected. It doesn’t take a jedi knight to figure out that big cape = big trouble.

7. Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie, Episodes VII-VIII): I never watched any Star Wars growing up but even I couldn’t fail to pick on some of the iconic images so persistent in popular culture. I recognized storm troopers as the bad guys of Star Wars long before anyone told me they were but to be honest, as a kid I always imagined that they were robots. I wasn’t cured of this delusion until The Force Awakens, when I learned there were humans inside that molded plastic. The uniformity of their uniforms (if you’ll forgive my redundancy) spelled machine to me – perhaps being a woman I just have an innate fear of wearing the same thing as someone else (who wore it best?) and Captain Phasma feels me. It’s hard to really distinguish yourself in a suit of armour but she accessories with this somber one-shouldered garment.

6. Padme (Natalie Portman, Episodes I-III): Padme also has an awful lot of capes, even when you sort them from the similar appeal of the long jacket, the cloak, the robe, and the poncho. No matter how you slice it these folks sure like to have a piece of cloth flowing behind them, announcing arrivals and departures. Is it dangerous around all these ship engines? Definitely. Awkward in battle? Absolutely. And yet: total capetown.

5. Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn, Rogue One): I think Krennic’s capes are a direct reflection of his lack of confidence. He’s insecure, so he tries to impress people with his vestments. He certainly looks important but capes don’t make you competent.

4. Kylo Ren (Adam Driver, Episodes VI-IX): Kylo Ren is a lot like his father – petulant and temperamental with a well-developed emo side. It’s no surprise that the cape appeals to him as well. It helps a young guy who perhaps isn’t fully respected yet cut an imposing figure.

3. Boba Fett (Jeremy Bulloch, Episodes V-VI): for some reason, lots of little boys were absolutely taken with Boba Fett because of his ‘cool armour’ which is baffling to me. Boba Fett is a boring, unnoteworthy character as far as I’m concerned. But he’s got this little torn piece of canvas dangling from his shoulder, so he’s not without vanity. He may never show his face, but he wants you to know he’s an individual.

2. Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams, Episodes V-VI): this dude may be a scoundrel and a cheat but he’s charming and well-dressed and let’s face it, a bit of a scene-stealer. We learn in Solo: A Star Wars Story that the Millennium Falcon has a cape room in it, that’s how much Lando loves his capes, so it’s hard to pick just one. Plus, Williams has a knack for using them in a commanding but flashy way. He wears the cape, the cape doesn’t wear him.

  1. Darth Vader: production designer John Barry and costume designer John Mollo have my utmost admiration for having come up with perhaps THE most iconic look of the 20th, and maybe even 21st, century. Darth Vader is immediately intimidating, the cape makes him broader, more imposing, and it follows the same lines of his helmet. Darth Vader is scary as heck and in a series of films full of costumes the likes of which we’ve never seen before, his is the most memorable.

The King

In the early 15th century, Timothee Chalamet had a mushroom cut. One of my sisters had a mushroom cut. This was in the late 20th century of course. She was 5 or 6 at the time. I believe that haircut haunts her to this day but the truth is, it was adorable. All the way, fully 100% adorable and I am exceedingly confident each and every one of you would agree. I would post a picture just to prove it if I thought for a second I’d live to hit publish another day.

Anyyyyyway. Hal (Chalamet) is a young cad about town. Technically he’s the prince of England, but like anyone with a modicum of sanity, he doesn’t think being King sounds like much fun and so he plans to reject the crown. But then his daddy dies and so does his brother and shit just basically conspires against him and boom bang bing, he’s King Henry V. Little King Henry is determined to distinguish himself from his father, largely thought to have brought a lot of trouble to his kingdom, yet he rather quickly ends up at war with France.

I’ve gone and said quickly but Robert Pattinson, who plays the Dauphin of France, does not appear on screen for about 1 hour and 14 minutes. I wasn’t counting, I swear. You’ll know him by his rousing “Big balls, small cock” speech. Yeah, they left that one out of history books for some reason.

Timothee Chalamet puts forth a very impressive performance, calling on the entire range of human emotion, which is likely both historically inaccurate and behaviour unbecoming of a monarch. The point is, he’s very good. I’m about to say he’s even the only good thing about the movie. You’ll disagree of course, feel free to do so, but I thought it was a real chore. Dark and dank – what, you think a movie can’t be dank? You’re calling me out on this? Determined to humiliate me even though I’m just trying to say this movie is damp and smells vaguely of mildew? Fine – dark and disagreeable, The King is not a pleasant experience. It’s also quite boring. One time a couple of underdeveloped princes wrestle, but they quickly got out of breath, mostly because they were each wearing like 60 lbs of armour, which kind of makes their attempt to kill each other seem less than genuine. Anyway, I’m just saying it would have been better had they been naked.

The King reminded me a lot of Outlaw King, only without all the horse murder. Haha, jkjkjk, horses definitely die. Netflix clearly believes we’ll only start taking them seriously if they make historical, horse murdery crap that nobody actually wants to watch. Give me another season of Nailed It! over this shite any day.

Captain Marvel

Mar-Vell! Shazam! Mar-Vell! Shazam! There is a long and interesting legal saga surrounding the Captain Marvel name (though if you are not a law geek it’s probably much more long than interesting). Basically, the red and white Captain Marvel (a.k.a. Shazam) came first as a blatant Superman rip-off. DC sued, put the creators out of business, bought Shazam for cheap and quickly forgot they owned him. Meanwhile, Marvel captain-marvel-mar-vell-shazam-differences-header-1108262-1280x0Comics decided that if any comic publisher should have a Captain Marvel, it should be them, so Marvel threw together a half-baked story about an alien named Mar-Vell to secure a trademark for the Captain Marvel name, won a lawsuit against DC and others, then gave Mar-Vell cancer and made him the only comic character in history to stay dead.

Given that history, I don’t think it is a coincidence that DC’s Shazam will follow within a month of Captain Marvel’s debut in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  If there’s a lesson here, and there may not be, it’s that “legal reasons” give birth to a lot of strange things (and don’t even get me started on the 90s Captain America and Fantastic Four films).

Incidentally, Marvel’s Captain Marvel is not a resurrection of the alien who died from cancer. Marvel revamped the character through a whole other convoluted saga, and she’s primed to be the first female hero to get her own MCU movie.

Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) is a space-faring Kree soldier with memory problems, a self-described noble warrior hero fighting a war against the shape-shifting Skrulls. After captain-marvel-international-poster-top-1200x675a Skrull ambush, she crash-lands on mid-90s Earth (smashing through the roof of a Blockbuster Video, as probability would dictate) and realizes that she’s been on this planet before. Teaming up with Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), Marvel chases after the Skrulls who came to Earth along with her (led by Ben Mendelsohn) while also trying to uncover her forgotten past.

In many ways, Captain Marvel is a standard solo origin story, which at this point they can crank out with no effort at all. But this film still feels like a necessary addition to the MCU. Captain Marvel is a worthy star and the galactic stakes are high enough here to make this film stand on its own. A great deal of those positive feelings are due to Larsen, who does a great job of keeping us invested in the character even before we (and she) know who she really is: the cosmic-powered superstar who is going to undo all the bad stuff that Thanos got away with last time (as you probably can guess, I’m still mad that he turned Spidey into dust). And the icing on the cake is the 90s nostalgia reminding us that no matter how bad your internet is during a snowstorm, things used to be much worse.

Aside from Shazam (which is almost certain to be terrible), Captain Marvel is bound to be compared to Wonder Woman, and for the only time ever, DC’s entry is the better one. Captain Marvel does not have the same crossover appeal as Wonder Woman does, but Captain Marvel is a really fun superhero movie on its own merits, as well as a great lead-in for the new Avengers film next month.

Robin Hood

If you needed money on an urgent basis, would you steal from the rich or the poor? The rich, right? It’s a no brainer. It’s Robin Hood’s calling card for good reason, because it works. And yet, when forced to make that decision in the latest big screen version of the legend of Robin Hood, the evil Sheriff of Nottingham (Ben Mendelsohn) chooses to rob the poor instead. I took it that was intended to show us that the Sheriff is truly evil. But what it really shows us is that he is an idiot.

This Sheriff of Nottingham is so dumb that he has no chance to best Robin Hood or any of his merry men. He is so dumb that he was written out of this wannabe franchise before it even crashed and burned at the box office. Still, Mendelsohn doesn’t let this miserable movie or its bad script constrain him. He gleefully chews enough scenery to let us know that even as this movie is bursting into flames around him, he relishes this chance to play an idiot. He absolutely nails it. Which doesn’t make Robin Hood any more enjoyable, but I have to give Mendelsohn an “A” for effort.

No one else in Robin Hood has even an eighth of Mendelsohn’s desire. Taron Egerton, Jamie Foxx, Eve Hewson and Jamie Dornan must also know that they are part of a dismal film. Nothing about this project could ever have seemed promising. Cliches and plot holes abound. The story makes no sense. The voiceovers are unbearably banal. The whole endeavour was so flat that I had time to wonder what Michael Bay might have made of this, and I concluded he could only have made it better, because at least Bay would have joined Mendelsohn in having some fun with the wretched source material.

Aside from Mendelsohn, everyone else in this film is making an obvious effort to be forgettable. It mostly works. In a year from now, I probably won’t remember anything about Robin Hood. It’s destined to be a footnote at best, remembered only in passing the next time a Robin Hood movie is made (maybe with Robin being female, which is one in a long list of Jay’s good ideas). Until then, try the Disney cartoon if you need a Robin Hood fix, or fall back on the Kevin Costner one if you’re desperate. Because the 2018 Robin Hood is not worth any of your time, or even any of the time of your most idiotic nemesis.

TIFF18: The Land of Steady Habits

Anders is mid-life-crisis-ing, hard. He left his wife, quit his job, sleeps with strangers he meets in Bed, Bath & Beyond while shopping for knick-knacks to fill his empty shelves. BUT HE’S STILL NOT HAPPY! Can you believe that abandoning everything you spent your lifetime building is not the path to true happiness? Can you imagine that the real problem was him all along?

I mean, those thoughts haven’t occurred to Anders (Ben Mendelsohn) yet. He’s a man. He’s not that quick. In fact, he’s slow and dumb enough to get high with someone else’s son. Charlie (Charlie Tehan) barely survives an overdose but shows up at Anders’ new bachelor pad looking for…friendship? Anders should know better; his own son PrestonMV5BMWZlMjZiMGItMjBhZS00YTlhLTlkMDgtNDc3Y2NkOTc2OGViXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyODI4MjAzNjU@._V1_ (Thomas Mann) has been to rehab and apparently still has a problem that isn’t quite addressed. But if his own son isn’t really his problem, why should someone else’s be?

So that doesn’t go well. Nothing does. The Land of Steady Habits is drenched in suburban angst, dripping with the failure of men, both young and old. Director Nicole Holofcener has a knack for eliciting career-best performances from her actors, and Ben Mendelsohn is no exception. His little idiosyncrasies, that devilish grin, they keep the character just shy of being unforgivable. Still, Anders is not meant to be liked. He gambled on the grass being greener and it isn’t. His discontent seems to poison those around him. Ah, the listlessness of the wealthy. It makes it so easy to sit back and judge, guilt-free.

Holofcener makes some interesting choices – notably, that Anders has already shed his previous life when we meet him. And he’s already finding the new one to be hollow. And we experience his search for meaning to be quite petty and superficial. Mendelsohn subverts his usual simmering anger to suggest an inner tension as he navigates relations with his son, ex-wife (Edie Falco), and new love (Connie Britton), with bitter, sometimes humourous results.

The Land of Steady Habits is a good character study that’s a bit uneven as a dramedy. Holofcener tends to be restrained. Sometimes that’s wonderful, and sometimes it’s a little frustrating. This movie seethes with ennui, shame, and regret, and nobody gets a free pass.

Ready Player One

We got to see Ready Player One with Steven Spielberg himself at SXSW – it was truly one of the most seminal moments I am likely to ever experience as a movie reviewer, and more importantly, as a movie fan. Sean wrote about it weeks ago, but I realized that I had something to add to the conversation.

I read Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One back in 2011 and I thought it was a tonne of fun. But it’s a highly nerdy book and I am not remotely nerdy. I do, however, know some nerds, and I eagerly pushed the book on them (it made for an EXTREMELY easy Christmas season: it knocked all the brothers-in-law off my list at once). I seem to recall Sean reading it in Mexico, and as I’d anticipated, he ate it right up. But for the many references that I just didn’t get, I still felt the energy and excitement of the book were translated to me. So while we were excited to hear that Spielberg was taking this on, we were less than thrilled to sit back and wait for three years for it to become reality. And then when we were finally treated to a trailer I thought: holy moly, I don’t think I remember this book! So I reread the book a few months ago and prepared myself for its big March 29 release date – yes, we’d be busy in 2 different cities celebrating Easter, and Grandma’s 95th birthday, and my sister visiting from over 1000km away, and making the great variety of baked goods requisite for such a long weekend – but surely we’d be able to squeeze it in. But alas, no need! While in Austin, Texas for the SXSW festival, Ready Player One was revealed to be the secret screening. Both Cline and the movie’s star Tye Sheridan are hometown boys, which READY PLAYER ONEmeans 300k of the festival’s attendees were vying for just 1000 seats in the venue. Some people may be discouraged by those odds, but not Sean! He gamely spent hours lined up outside (while I watched Blindspotting, which was an incredible festival revelation) but his dedication paid off, and we got in, got some pretty fabulous seats actually, and sat among people who were just so incredibly excited to see the movie they hardly stopped cheering for a single second of the film’s 140 minute run time.

First of all, for fans of the book: the movie Ready Player One carries all of the novel’s essence but none of its spoilers. The big, showy challenge scenes are all-new for the movie, so you get to enjoy it and be surprised by it, and if I may say: delighted by it. It hits exactly the right tone but it’s new and it’s exciting. And some of the new stuff IS REALLY FUCKING COOL. But Spielberg HIMSELF asked me not to spill the beans, so I won’t. And I wouldn’t want to in any case: not every movie is capable of enchanting us, and I wouldn’t want to deprive anyone of that simple little thrill of pleasure.

Second, to fans of Speilberg: this is the most ‘Spielbergian’ film of the century. By which I mean, Spielberg himself has really gotten away from Spielberg-type movies. He hasn’t done blockbustery, popcorny movies in years. Lately he’s concentrated on smaller films, like The Post, and Bridge of Spies, which I have actually loved. It’s a different, more grown-up Spielberg; they’re movies that feel almost indie in nature, if not for the souped up cast. Dramatic stuff, more grounded, dark and moody, and often political. But little Stevie finds his inner child, indeed his inner fanboy, and allows himself to just express exuberant joy once again on the big screen – and even, and I do honestly believe this was hard for him, allow his own film legacy to be paid homage in this film right alongside other iconic pop culture moments from the 1970s right through the early 90s.

Ready Player One feels like Steven Spielberg has thrown himself a parade, and he’s got every one of his time-honoured tricks riding big loud floats. It’s fantastic. I’ve heard the Internet shitting on the fact that this film is loaded with pop culture nostalgia and I can’t for the life of me understand that. I mean, the first time you see the film, you won’t notice half, or likely a third, of what’s hidden in there. Spielberg himself doesn’t know every single thing that’s been recreated in the film – he was surprised readyplayerone-56b7d103-d459-4ff3-89ac-e6342be40e01to find a Gremlin long after he’d already approved the scene, and he’ll continue to be surprised by Easter eggs (how fitting, for this weekend!), as will we. In subsequent viewings, you could easily play a drinking game with friends, or a Bingo game would be fun, just spotting all the cool things the brilliant art department and visual effects people slipped in there – it’s like the hoarders of movies with so many layers it’ll take forever before you reach the dead cat layer.

I still haven’t even told you what this movie’s about, but you’ve already gleaned that from elsewhere, haven’t you? It’s basically about the near future where the world has gotten so bleak that everyone prefers to live in this virtual world called the Oasis. The creator of the Oasis dies, and leaves the rights to it to whomever can win a little game that he’s rigged. Now, the Oasis is definitely worth a kabillion dollars, but it’s worth even more politically. So while our protagonists are kids, they’re up against not just adults but corporations in order to win control of this thing. And the Oasis creator (played by Mark Rylance) is a guy just enamoured with the 80s, so everything he does is basically a loving tribute to the “golden age” of gaming. But you don’t need to be able to pick up on those references in order to enjoy the story – they’re just the window dressing on a dystopian tale as old time.

The fact is, the world in Ready Player One is not so far from our own, and it feels worrying possible. The real trick, the one the movie keeps bumping up against, is to ask yourself: what are we taking from this virtual world, and how are we using it to make meaningful connections in the real world? Though this fight is online, the repercussions exist in the real world, and this creates an interesting duality between the avatar characters online and their real life counterparts. Though it looks and feels like a game, the stakes are high and the consequences dire. There’s some really flashy editing that allows us to move back and forth between worlds, and some truly exceptional visual effects mean the movement between the two feels natural but looks distinct.

And at its heart, this movie tells a story like many of Spielberg’s best: that of friendship, trust, and human connection. The film omits some of the book’s more subversive themes – race, gender, class – and given its scope and run time, it’s no wonder. There simply isn’t enough space to explore this world from corner to corner (read the book!). Instead, this movie submerses you in a world of pure imagination.