Bill Nighy

Blow Dry (2001, Paddy Breathnach)

At ninety minutes and change, Blow Dry is too short. Given the complexities of the ground situation’s character relationships and then the character’s arcs throughout the picture, it could easily run two and a half hours.

The concept, which at first blush seems sensational but turns out not to be, has Natasha Richardson and Rachel Griffiths as a couple who own a salon in a small English town. Alan Rickman–as Richardson’s ex-husband–has a barber shop with their son, played by Josh Hartnett. Rickman doesn’t speak to the two women (whose business is next to his) and Hartnett’s got a dysfunctional relationship with both parents, not to mention Griffiths.

The beauty parts of Blow Dry come when these characters have to get together and sort it out. Sadly, it only happens once as a group but it’s an amazing scene. The little scenes when a couple come together are always good, but there’s never enough of it. The film’s MacGuffin is a hair cutting competition in the small town and a lot of time goes towards it. Too much, but those scenes are still pretty well done.

They just aren’t sublime.

Richardson and Griffiths are outstanding. Rickman’s good (though he has little to do). Hartnett occasionally loses his accent, but his earnestness holds the performance together. As the bad guy hair dresser, Bill Nighy is great. As Nighy’s daughter (and Hartnett’s love interest), Rachael Leigh Cook is awful.

It’s busy and loud but quite funny and genuinely sincere.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Paddy Breathnach; written by Simon Beaufoy; director of photography, Cian de Buitléar; edited by Tony Lawson; music by Patrick Doyle; production designer, Sophie Becher; produced by William Horberg, Ruth Jackson and David Rubin; released by Miramax Films.

Starring Natasha Richardson (Shelley), Alan Rickman (Phil), Rachel Griffiths (Sandra), Josh Hartnett (Brian), Bill Nighy (Ray Robertson), Hugh Bonneville (Louis), Rachael Leigh Cook (Christina Robertson), Warren Clarke (Tony) and Rosemary Harris (Daisy).


Underworld (2003, Len Wiseman)

I was looking for something stupid to watch—something mindlessly diverting—so I tried Underworld.

Wiseman’s action scenes are fine. It’s when Wiseman tries to direct story he falls apart. And there’s a lot of story in Underworld. Lots of needless scenes, complications, complexities. It’s not a surprise a former stuntman wrote it (Danny McBride—not the actor). It’s a bit of a surprise, though, the filmmakers found a studio to greenlight it without a literate person doing a rewrite.

Beckinsale’s performance occasionally suggests she’s able to hold herself in check. Other times, she’s clearly contemptible of the material. To some degree, it might work for the character… but it really doesn’t. It leads to her having negative chemistry with her Romeo, played by Scott Speedman.

Speedman’s not terrible. He’s not entirely believable as a med student, but he’s nowhere near as bad as I assumed.

Then there’s Michael Sheen. I knew he was in it, but I never really believed it. After seeing him, it’s even harder to believe. He’s awful.

The rest of the supporting cast is spotty. Shane Brolly is really bad. Sophia Myles and Wentworth Miller aren’t terrible. Kevin Grevioux, who co-wrote the story, he’s bad.

There’s some odd homoeroticism to the werewolves, which is mildly interesting; usually the vampires have it. It’s just not interesting enough to make one care.

Cut down to forty or seventy minutes of action scenes… it might’ve work. But with its attempts at character developments and narrative, Underworld‘s awful.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Len Wiseman; screenplay by Danny McBride, based on a story by Kevin Grevioux, Wiseman and McBride; director of photography; Tony Pierce-Roberts; edited by Martin Hunter; music by Paul Haslinger; production designer, Bruton Jones; produced by Gary Lucchesi, Tom Rosenberg and Richard S. Wright; released by Screem Gems.

Starring Kate Beckinsale (Selene), Scott Speedman (Michael Corvin), Michael Sheen (Lucian), Shane Brolly (Kraven), Bill Nighy (Viktor), Erwin Leder (Singe), Sophia Myles (Erika), Robbie Gee (Kahn), Wentworth Miller (Dr. Adam Lockwood) and Kevin Grevioux (Raze).


Shaun of the Dead (2004, Edgar Wright)

So, people told me Shaun of the Dead was good, but they kept describing it as something akin to Hot Fuzz and whatnot. It’s not a spoof of a zombie movie though. It’s a zombie movie with a couple losers discovering their skill sets make them good at surviving a zombie holocaust, if not excelling at it.

Actually, it’d be kind of easy to describe Shaun of the Dead as Clerks with zombies. Maybe too easy? I’m not sure. Wright’s a far better director than Kevin Smith, creating this intense atmosphere the audience can feel while the characters are a little too dull to figure out what’s going on. Where the film hits gold is making Simon Pegg both a bit of a twit and also a character for the audience to identify with. He’s actually the only male character in the film who doesn’t have a serious defect (Nick Frost is a drunken loser, Peter Serafinowicz is a yuppie jerk, Dylan Moran is an ass, Bill Nighy is a jerk) and so it’s not really surprising how Lucy Davis occasionally gives him the bedroom eyes. It’s not mentioned (Kate Ashfield plays Pegg’s love interest to far less effect, but it might be because Ashfield’s character is just written as the annoyed girlfriend… much like, you know, Clerks).

The film’s hilarious from the start and keeps a nice air of unpredictably about it. Zombie films feature this ragtag cast of characters, thrown together, but not Shaun. It’s far more… realistic.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Edgar Wright; written by Simon Pegg and Wright; director of photography, David M. Dunlap; edited by Chris Dickens; music by Dan Mudford and Pete Woodhead; production designer, Marcus Rowland; produced by Nina Park; released by Focus Features.

Starring Simon Pegg (Shaun), Kate Ashfield (Liz), Nick Frost (Ed), Lucy Davis (Dianne), Dylan Moran (David), Peter Serafinowicz (Pete), Bill Nighy (Philip), Jessica Hynes (Yvonne) and Penelope Wilton (Barbara).


Valkyrie (2008, Bryan Singer)

For Valkyrie to work, Bryan Singer needs to get–give or take–five minutes when the viewer isn’t entirely sure Adolf Hitler wasn’t assassinated. The entire premise of watching a film, a historically-based film, where the conclusion is well-known and suspending disbelief… he needs five minutes. Maybe the trick is casting Tom Cruise as a German. By the time the story gets around to needing the viewer to question whether or not Hitler is dead, he or she has already accepted Cruise. The biggest hurdle is over (who knows what Welles could have gotten away with in Touch of Evil, after everyone is buying Charlton Heston as a Mexican).

Valkyrie arrives following months of internet-fueled derision–from Singer as director to Cruise as German–and it does away with both concerns in the first scene. The language transition from German to English isn’t the best ever, but it’s fine. It acknowledges the situation of having an English language film about a bunch of German speakers. Cruise is solid from the open. As for Singer–he keeps out of the way. Singer’s direction is unobtrusive and perfectly measured–when he needs to emphasize an actor, he emphasizes the actor, same thing when he needs to emphasize a story development. At its core, both story-wise and star-wise, Valkyrie is one of those 1970s pictures with a lot of recognizable, good actors and a lead who maybe has seen better days. Charting Cruise’s career, it’s either a good sign or a bad sign in terms of his bankability, but it shows he’s still capable of doing a fine movie star turn.

The script–from Singer’s Usual Suspects writer McQuarrie and some other guy–does have a lot of twists and turns. It’s kind of like watching a chess game and knowing who’s going to win in advance. At some point, knowing the winner isn’t as interesting as seeing how the game is played. Valkyrie‘s not one of the best World War II films, but it gets a lot of mileage out of emulating them–I half expected an end credits actor showcase like The Great Escape. The only thing I couldn’t figure out about the script was the presence of Carice von Houten as Cruise’s wife. Sure, it’s historically accurate, but Cruise is the protagonist because of his role in the conspiracy, not because he’s necessarily the most interesting character.

It doesn’t hurt the film’s technically superior. Singer’s usual crew, cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel, editor and composer John Ottman, these guys usually turn in good work.

Similarly, the all-star cast is excellent, particularly Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson and Terence Stamp. Kenneth Branagh and Eddie Izzard are fine in glorified cameos. Jamie Parker’s good as Cruise’s sidekick. All of the aforementioned anti-Hitler conspirators are played by Brits. The hero’s American. Given a point of Valkyrie is to identify some Germans as different from Hitler following stooges–the reality of a postwar Germany, excellently discussed in Tony Judt’s Postwar for example, reveals a far more depressing truth than a Hollywood movie would ever want to present–it’s kind of strange Singer casts a very German guy as a very big Nazi. You’d think he’d at least go for one major good guy. There’s one good guy played by a German, but he doesn’t come into the movie until real late.

Valkyrie‘s a solid, watchable thriller. Maybe even a little bit better than it should be. Singer has a couple excellent moments as a director, maybe the best stuff he’s done since The Usual Suspects. He actually gets sublime.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Bryan Singer; written by Christopher McQuarrie and Nathan Alexander; director of photography, Newton Thomas Sigel; edited by John Ottman; music by Ottman; production designers, Lilly Kilvert, Patrick Lumb and Tom Meyer; produced by Singer, McQuarrie and Gilbert Adler; released by United Artists.

Starring Tom Cruise (Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg), Kenneth Branagh (Major-General Henning von Tresckow), Bill Nighy (General Friedrich Olbricht), Tom Wilkinson (General Friedrich Fromm), Carice van Houten (Nina von Stauffenberg), Thomas Kretschmann (Major Otto Ernst Remer), Terence Stamp (Ludwig Beck), Eddie Izzard (General Erich Fellgiebel), Kevin McNally (Dr. Carl Goerdeler), Christian Berkel (Colonel Mertz von Quirnheim) and Jamie Parker (Lieutenant Werner von Haeften).


The Constant Gardener (2005, Fernando Meirelles)

With two major exceptions, The Constant Gardener is defined by what it is not rather than what it is… It is not a thriller, it is not a mystery, it might not even be a narrative. It is a (justified) condemnation of Western pharmaceutical companies–with Western government’s express permission–treatment of sick African peoples. It’s also a masterfully made film; Fernando Meirelles probably makes two errors throughout. Besides the wonderful cinematography, the editing is exquisite (possibly the first time I’ve ever described editing with that word). But, mostly due to the presence of Ralph Fiennes and some physically realized daydreams, The Constant Gardener comes off a lot like The English Patient, only relevant.

The film, rather interestingly, so inhuman, so vile, a James Bond villain would be taking notes. These villains–played wonderfully by Danny Huston and Bill Nighy (Huston’s just magnificent)–are, of course, members of the British government. While the film could be an exploration of evil men who do evil things but still play cricket with their children in filmic moments meant to bring attention to that contradiction, it is not.

The first forty minutes are Rachel Weisz playing Joan of Arc. It’s possibly Weisz’s best (or only good) performance, but since she is playing the finest human being ever to walk (or possibly levitate above) the earth, Meirelles would have to be incompetent to not get such a performance out of her. And Meirelles is far from incompetent. He gets more humanity out of Fiennes, with his stylized cinéma vérité in domestic situations, than anyone else ever has. Following Weisz’s death (it’s not a spoiler, the film opens with it then awkwardly goes into flashback for forty minutes), Fiennes takes over on his investigation into her death. His investigation being the most boring investigation I can ever remember seeing in a film. It’s long and boring and predictable (there is no mystery to be solved really) and the film’s filled with scenes for edifying the audience in regards to what’s going on in Africa with drug companies.

I would have said it was a preaching-to-the-choir film, but then I remembered when it was out and I know a lot of dumb people who went to go see it, so hopefully it did inform. Hopefully it did make some really ignorant people realize what’s going on.

But as a film? As a story? Meirelles goes so far as to mimic a bunch of English Patient shots. Like shots from the poster.

Without the politics, The Constant Gardener would have been–well, it wouldn’t have been. But all there is to the film is the information and the emotional effect of seeing it. Weisz’s death, the supposed impetus, is as useless as the miscarriage her character suffers for no reason other than to introduce a character, a mystery, and kill some time, make the audience feel even sorry for Joan of Arc.

Pete Postlethwaite shows up for a bit and it’s nice to see him. Gerard McSorley is good.

The film does succeed (I mean, I’m referring to it as a film, aren’t I?) on some levels–and maybe it succeeds on all the ones it’s trying to succeed on–but it’s lack of narrative ambition is startling and somewhat distressing.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Fernando Meirelles; screenplay by Jeffrey Caine, based on the novel by John le Carré; director of photography, César Charlone; edited by Claire Simpson; music by Alberto Iglesias; production designer, Mark Tildesley; produced by Simon Channing Williams; released by Focus Features.

Starring Ralph Fiennes (Justin Quayle), Rachel Weisz (Tessa Quayle), Danny Huston (Sandy Woodrow), Bill Nighy (Sir Bernard Pellegrin), Pete Postlethwaite (Lorbeer), Hubert Koundé (Dr. Arnold Bluhm) and Gerard McSorley (Sir Kenneth Curtiss).


Hot Fuzz (2007, Edgar Wright)

I was going to start this post off with a mention I had no idea spoof movies were back–then I realized I just hadn’t been partaking in them (I’m thinking the Scary Movie series and whatever else the Brothers Weinstein squeeze out between Oscar-lusts). Hot Fuzz is a technical spoof for the most part–though I think there are a lot of Bad Boys II and Point Break references–with lots of fast cuts, fast pans, rapid montages. There’s a good deal of Lethal Weapon references, as well as Terminator 2 ones. Hot Fuzz‘s most admirable trait–its ability to keep with this crap and ride it through–is also the most irritating. There’s little actual content beyond these technical references–except, there should be, because Hot Fuzz has a great cast. With a handful of exceptions–the 1970s-looking detectives make no sense–the supporting characters are perfect. But Simon Pegg’s lead is an action hero among regular folk… Hot Fuzz reminds me a lot of Last Action Hero. Pegg plays the character as an action hero lost in the real world (with a few hinky exceptions, like the detectives) and it works against the film.

Pegg’s actually really good as the action hero. He’s a fine actor. But he’s–I need a metaphor for something moving against the grain and I’m not getting one. There’s also some serious writing problems–I’m sure one could defend it as some kind of a reference to plot holes in action movies, but there’s no real excuse for it. My biggest problem with Hot Fuzz, besides that plot hole, is it’s unnecessary. Action movies reference, homage, and mock each other and have been doing it for twenty years. Pointing out all the stereotypical film techniques–down to Lethal Weapon‘s music, in fact–well, if Hot Fuzz had been fifteen minutes–or even eighty-five–but it’s two hours. The jokes get old after about five seconds, long enough to notice the references, then Hot Fuzz carries them through… so it’s admirable, but pointless.

The supporting cast–especially Timothy Dalton–is all good. Dalton’s great throughout while other characters have reveals and don’t do as well… script problems too.

I find it odd movielens said I’d give it three, but IMDb correctly suggests five bad movies to see if I liked it. Including Lethal Weapon and Bad Boys II. Though I’m just guessing on Bad Boys II (I try not to see things like that).

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Edgar Wright; written by Wright and Simon Pegg; director of photography, Jess Hall; edited by Chris Dickens; music by David Arnold; production designer, Marcus Rowland; produced by Nira Park, Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner; released by Rogue Pictures.

Starring Simon Pegg (Nicholas Angel), Nick Frost (Danny Butterman), Jim Broadbent (Frank Butterman), Paddy Considine (Andy Wainwright), Timothy Dalton (Simon Skinner), Anne Reid (Leslie Tiller), Rafe Spall (Andy Cartwright), Billie Whitelaw (Joyce Cooper), Edward Woodward (Tom Weaver), Bill Nighy (Chief Inspector), Martin Freeman (Sergeant) and Steve Coogan (Metropolitan Police Inspector).


Flushed Away (2006, David Bowers and Sam Fell)

There’s something a bit off about Flushed Away. There’s some lazy storytelling, but I can forgive it since the rats aren’t physiologically accurate anyway and it is really enjoyable to watch–no, it’s something a lot more base. It’s obvious no one really cares. Aardman productions used to have passion by default–they were stop-motion and stop-motion meant a lot of time making things work–Flushed Away is CG and there’s just something off in the storytelling’s adaptation to the technology. I’m not a fan of CG–I’ve gotten better about it, much like I got to be a DVD supporter over laserdisc (I’m forced to out of necessity)–but Flushed Away’s problems aren’t in the literal adaptation. The fiancée thought the film was the traditional Aardman style, so it’s a visual fit, but the laziness hasn’t got anything to do with the technology. It’s the damn story. There are some nice moments to the film, but it’s all really pat. Maybe it’s just because it goes platonic… Maybe I’m pissed because it’s a cheat.

Anyway, there’s something great stuff–the casting is real good, particularly Kate Winslet, which surprised me. She’s willing to have a lot of fun and her character’s good, surprising even. Hugh Jackman plays the foppish rat who ends up in the sewer and he’s fine, but almost impossible to identify with for a lot of the film. Not in a bad way, he’s just the butt of the jokes. Bill Nighy is great as a thug rat, big shock, but Jean Reno is wasted. Not because his character is “Le Frog” (get it?), but because it’s Jean Reno and that casting is supposed to mean something. It doesn’t. He’s just a French guy.

If you do see the film–and I do recommend it, I’ll probably buy it because it is a pleasant diversion–and you notice there are characters missing from the trailer (I guess Aardman found it easier to produce scenes to cut on computer instead of in reality), you’re not alone. In fact, you’re seeing the big problem with Flushed Away. It’s too short (IMDb says eighty-four minutes and I say long credits) and it’s too slight. It’s an exercise in amusement, nothing more.

CREDITS

2/4★★

Directed by David Bowers and Sam Fell; written by Dick Clement, Ian La Frenais, Christopher Lloyd, Joe Keenan and William Davies, based on a story by Fell, Peter Lord, Clement and La Frenais; edited by John Venzon; music by Harry Gregson-Williams; production designer, David A.S. James; produced by Cecil Kramer, Lord and David Sproxton; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Hugh Jackman (Roddy), Kate Winslet (Rita), Ian McKellen (the Toad), Jean Reno (le Frog), Bill Nighy (Whitey), Andy Serkis (Spike), Shane Richie (Sid), Kathy Burke (Rita’s Mum), David Suchet (Rita’s Dad) and Miriam Margolyes (Rita’s Grandma).


I Capture the Castle (2003, Tim Fywell)

Do the British have an unending supply of novels about wise-beyond-their-years young women (unjustly poor or ordinary, of course) who have slightly dim older sisters who can’t see love in front of their eyes while all the time these younger women suffer for their sisters’ happiness? It certainly seems so.

I Capture the Castle, the film, plays like a combination of Cold Comfort Farm and Pride & Prejudice. It’s an incredibly long film, filled with two and three minute scenes set days or weeks apart, and chock-full of bad performances. The lead, Romola Garai, is excellent–though her performance isn’t enough to recommend the film, as it’s saddled with terrible diary-writing narration (filling the diary seems to be the present action of the film, but it’s decided on later and the film never takes advantage of that reasonable structure). Bill Nighy, as Garai’s father, a troubled novelist, is great. Nighy’s often great in outlandish roles, but Castle is the best work from him I’ve seen, he’s fantastic. Also good–surprisingly, as I haven’t seen him in anything for ten years–is Henry Thomas. Well, I suppose I saw him more recently in some of Cloak & Dagger, before I turned it off.

The rest of the cast is not good. Oh, except the precocious little brother. I queued the film for Rose Byrne, who plays the dull older sister. Given the rest of the cast, she’s not so bad, but she’s not any good in Castle. Tara Fitzgerald is bad. Sinéad Cusack is bad. Marc Blucas–as Thomas’ brother–is so bad he’s laughable. Even if these actors–Byrne aside–weren’t so bad, Castle probably wouldn’t be any better. It’s so shallowly written. Ah, forgot another one–almost Superman Henry Cavill is bad too. Anyway, the writing (I assume from the source novel) gives the characters no depth and gives the audience little to identify with except the occasional humor and the dreadfulness of being a wise-beyond-her-years English young woman who’s sacrificing her happiness for her older sister’s. Her dim older sister’s.

The director lensed the film in 2.35:1, which tends to require a lot of talent when the subject matter is people. He hasn’t got the talent (from his filmography, it looks like he’s done mostly TV movies and Castle was his only chance for glorious Panavision), but the English country-side scenery is pretty. At best, Castle (along with Dirty Dancing 2) will be an odd citation in Garai’s someday excellent filmography. At worst, it’ll be Bill Nighy’s best performance.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Tim Fywell; written by Heidi Thomas, based on the novel by Dodie Smith; director of photography, Richard Greatrex; edited by Roy Sharman; music by Dario Marianelli; production designer, John-Paul Kelly; produced by David Parfitt; released by Samuel Goldwyn Films.

Starring Henry Thomas (Simon), Marc Blucas (Neil), Rose Byrne (Rose), Romola Garai (Cassandra), Bill Nighy (Mortmain), Tara Fitzgerald (Topaz), Henry Cavill (Stephen), Sinéad Cusack (Mrs. Cotton) and Joe Sowerbutts (Thomas).


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