Tag Archives: Idris Elba

Calling Aaron Sorkin’s bluff: Molly’s Game review

13 Jan
MOLLY'S GAME

Jessica Chastain as Molly Bloom and Idris Elba as her lawyer in Aaron Sorkin’s Molly’s Game. This courtroom scene, with its extended seat-switching gag, is cute on the page, but leaden and ludicrous on-screen, requiring a screwball comedy both performers lack.

Poker does not translate well to the big screen. The drama is mostly internal. Watch a YouTube video of any key hand, and it will last several minutes. For most of that time, one player remains deep in thought: “He bet this, but on the last street he bet that, which means he could have this, but then this player often bets like so, and also he probably believes I have this whereas in fact I have that, and therefore…”

Fellow poker players find this internal drama gripping, because they will be going through the same thought process as they watch. Non-players, ie the majority of the film-going public, just see someone sitting on a chair frowning.

Major movies with poker scenes usually solve this problem by going over the top with preposterous hands and stakes. The classic example is Casino Royale, in which James Bond wins a $115m pot with a straight flush vs Aces full vs eights full vs a flush. Only Rounders remains true to the thought processes and rituals of the game, by means of extensive voice-over to get us into the heads of the players.

Molly’s Game, the directorial debut of peerless screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, ducks the problem entirely. The few poker sequences are filmed in the now hackneyed slow/fast motion style that directors reach for when they want to jazz up a scene and make it look “cool”. As to the rituals of poker that make it so compelling to its acolytes – the secret language of trips, boats, nuts and check-raises, the banter and the unwritten codes of table etiquette – those, too, are sidelined. It’s a particular shame here, as Molly’s Game took place in a world of high-stakes home games open only to the privileged few: we would have liked to peer behind the curtain.

Instead, Aaron Sorkin makes it a character study of Molly herself: a high-achiever with a hard-driving father whose Olympic skiing ambitions were crushed early by injury, and who found herself, almost by accident, running an illegal high-stakes poker game to Hollywood A-listers, hedge-fund millionaires and – her downfall – a smattering of mobsters.

This should be right in Sorkin’s comfort zone. From A Few Good Men through The West Wing to The Social Network, he has made a speciality of fast, intelligent dialogue spoken by fast, intelligent people. That he fails even in this is down to the central performance, or possibly Sorkin’s direction of it. As becomes painfully obvious from the opening voice-over, Jessica Chastain just can’t get her mouth around his script. She rattles it out, but doesn’t own it, like a soap star called upon to do Shakespeare.

As the lawyer who defends her, Idris Elba, too, seems at sea. There is no chemistry between the two, and his American accent is ludicrous. Only Kevin Costner as Molly’s father gives any sense of being a complex, flesh-and-blood person with an emotional hinterland, rather than an actor reciting lines.

In fairness, I should point out that many of my fellow reviewers seem to disagree, praising at least outstanding performances by two great actors at the top of their game, if not Sorkin’s direction. All I can imagine is that they have fallen into a classic poker trap of being influenced by the players’ strong past records, and believed the bluff.

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Why Star Trek: Beyond can’t tell its art from its Elba

25 Jul
STAR TREK BEYOND

For God’s sake, Jim, I’m a liberal not a fascist! Spock and Bones with newcomer Jaylah (Sofia Boutella) in Star Trek: Beyond 

Really, internet? Does no one apart from me find it peculiar that, in Star Trek: Beyond, the Enterprise crew keep talking about strength in unity? They are the ultimate liberals – Simon Pegg, who wrote the script this time round, even recently said the Enterprise crew would have been unanimous Remainers in the Brexit vote – and yet this slogan is the very definition of fascism. A “fasces” in Latin is a bound-together bundle of sticks – one stick is easily snapped, a bundle is not.

The saying and its application also feel like an inferior retread of “the needs of the few outweigh the needs of the many”. Perhaps it’s one of Pegg’s many deliberate homages to the original series, but it comes across as lazy.

Indeed, the plot seems even more perfunctory in conception and risible in denouement than usual. The much-touted new character, who shares pride of place on the poster with Kirk and Spock, has no more depth than any other identikit bad-ass martial-arts babe (with, admittedly, a talent for engineering thrown in). The dialogue, though fitfully entertaining, is never as laugh-out-loud funny as you would expect from being off the Pegg, though in his defence he was simultaneously filming Mission Impossible at the time of writing and had to be talked out of resigning by producer JJ Abrams. And while the last Star Trek film had the more nuanced Benedict Cumberbatch, Kraal is a painfully stereotypical villain, with a face where you can’t tell its arse from its Elba.

Ah well. Star Trek: Beyond still has much to recommend it. Hugely superior production design, for a start. The “snowglobe in space” that houses millions of people in a suspiciously fragile-looking bubble one-ups the curved space base in Elysium with a dizzying convergence of gravity-defying walkways, shimmering lakes and bendy skylines. A crashing Enterprise similarly upends gravitational logic to have Kirk climbing floors and walking on walls. The action scenes, courtesy of Fast & Furious 6 director Justin Lin, are faultless.

Overall, as a life-long Trekker, did I enjoy it? Hell yes. I mean Jeez – I remember what it’s like to sit through Star Trek V: The Final Frontier in the cinema. Criticism be damned: may the current incarnation of bold goers live long and prosper.

Evening Standard Film Award winners: not all white on the night

7 Feb
beasts of no nation

Idris Elba in Beasts of No Nation: ignored by the Oscars, triumphing at the Evening Standard Film Awards

So great to see British films properly recognised: at the Evening Standard Film Awards tonight, the awards were full of them. Admittedly, only British and Irish films were actually eligible for this award, but still: go team GB!

Idris Elba took a swipe at the all-white Oscars when collecting his Best Actor award for Beasts of No Nation, pointing out that the director was half Japanese, the crew were from New York and Ghana, and the money came from all over. “That’s f***ing diversity,” he said.

Other deserving winners included Emma Donoghue for scripting Room and Amy for best Documentary, while The Lady in the Van took Best Actress for Maggie Smith and the Outstanding Contribution award for writer Alan Bennett, who wryly called this particular accolade “a sharp nudge in the direction of the grave”. Brooklyn won Best Film, though I would have loved it to go to The Lobster, certainly the most singular and original of the year’s crop.

Hollywood was thrown a bone in the shape of the Best Blockbuster award, voted for by members of the public – no surprises there, then, to find Star Wars: The Force Awakens triumphing. Funnily enough, it was picked up by Anthony Daniels – a man most famous for playing what is essentially a life-sized, ambulant version of the Oscars statuette.

Pacific Rim: putting the “armour” into “Armageddon”

13 Jul

Image

Let’s get one thing out of the way first. “Pacific Rim” is not, in fact, a scatalogical sexual practice performed in an extremely calm manner. It is the edges of the Pacific Ocean, which are threatened with annihilation when a gateway opens up underwater to another dimension filled with giant monsters. Oh no! However can Mankind fight back? But of course. WITH GIANT ROBOTS.

It’s basically the climax of Aliens, where Ripley straps on an exo-skeleton and kicks Alien ass, magnified a hundred times and stretched to a whole movie. Or think of it as Godzilla crossed with Transformers, except good. And if that doesn’t strike you as ten shades of awesome, this is definitely not the film for you.

It’s admirably single-minded. There is a love interest; there is family to avenge; there is noble sacrifice. But only up to a point. Guillermo del Toro apparently stripped an hour of character stuff out in the edit, so there are practically no sub-plots or back-story. In one of the film’s many great jokes – albeit one that only scriptwriters are likely to slap their thighs over – the grizzled commander (Idris Elba) snaps, speaking for grizzled commanders in pretty much all movies, “You have NO idea who I am and where I come from, and I’m not about to tell you my whole life story. All I need is to be a fixed point.”

So if you’re expecting character development, or any real plot other than “robots smash!”, you are, as the American expression quaintly has it, s**t out of luck. But if you like some armour in your Armageddon, and if you can hoot at lines such as “Guess who’s back you one-eyed bitch, and you owe me a Kaiju brain!” or “I’m cancelling the Apocalypse!”, Pacific Rim is an instant classic.