Brian Cox

Anna (2013, Jorge Dorado)

Anna is an exceptionally stupid movie. Apparently, no one involved with the film has seen films like Inception or The Sixth Sense because Anna apes big reveals from both of them rather obviously. It’s not a matter of guessing the twist ending, it’s a matter of trying to figure out what you’re supposed to be doing instead of guessing the twist ending.

One possibility for the filmmakers going with the incompetency of Guy Holmes’s script is Mark Strong. As the lead, Strong seems compassionate and authoritative, but it turns out he’s a moron too. Some of the problem might be how poorly the film establishes its reality, where mind detectives consult and go into people’s memories for supplemental evidence in court cases. But these mind trips have no bearing in court… like I said, it’s a dumb movie.

But it’s really well-acted from the leads. Strong’s character is doing his job for the money so maybe Strong was just doing the role for the money. He’s excellent, Taissa Farmiga is fantastic as the titular Anna. They’re both able to transcend the script. Because besides having an unimaginative approach to setting, it’s a good looking film. Dorado’s decent with composition and Óscar Faura’s cinematography is breathtaking.

The supporting cast–who are all suspects–don’t do as well as the leads. Brian Cox cashes a paycheck, Saskia Reeves looks lost, Richard Dillane isn’t bad. Indira Varma’s not good, however; a combination of mediocre accent and terrible writing.

Anna isn’t entirely worthless, just extremely close.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Jorge Dorado; screenplay by Guy Holmes, based on a story by Guy Holmes and Martha Holmes; director of photography, Óscar Faura; edited by Jaime Valdueza; music by Lucas Vidal; production designer, Alain Bainée; produced by Jaume Collet-Serra, Peter Safran, Juan Sola and Mercedes Gamero; released by Vertical Entertainment.

Starring Mark Strong (John Washington), Taissa Farmiga (Anna Greene), Saskia Reeves (Michelle Greene), Richard Dillane (Robert Greene), Indira Varma (Judith), Noah Taylor (Peter Lundgren), Alberto Ammann (Tom Ortega) and Brian Cox (Sebastian).


Red 2 (2013, Dean Parisot)

Red 2 is a lot of fun. It’s so much fun, in fact, most of its problems are never obvious during the actual film, only on later reflection.

The film opens quickly–Bruce Willis and Mary-Louise Parker going shopping seems to be very fast, but turns out to be one of the slowest sections of the movie–and never stops. Towards the finish, the film hits a lot of unexpected twists and every pause eventually becomes suspect. Director Parisot and writers Jon and Erich Hoeber are stunningly confident in the film, its script and primarily its cast.

Red 2 wouldn’t work without two components… its female actors, Helen Mirren and Parker. Even though the cast is respectable, Mirren makes the thing regal. And Parker brings humanity to the film, which often plays its sexagenarian ultra-violence for laughs. They’re the glue of the film.

Parisot and the Hoeber brothers actually trust the viewer quite a bit throughout. John Malkovich and Willis have a lot of friendship establishing scenes at the front, then less and less as the picture moves on. But the later scenes rely on the viewer’s recall.

Malkovich is utterly fantastic. His background ticks alone make the film worth seeing.

Willis’s role is easy and he’s good; he and Parker have a lovely chemistry.

Anthony Hopkins and Catherine Zeta Jones are adequate as far as the cast additions; Lee Byung-hun is the strongest.

Red 2 has some not insignificant problems, but it’s a definite, assured success.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Dean Parisot; screenplay by Jon Hoeber and Erich Hoeber, based on characters created by Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner; director of photography, Enrique Chediak; edited by Don Zimmerman; music by Alan Silvestri; production designer, Jim Clay; produced by Lorenzo di Bonaventura and Mark Vahradian; released by Summit Entertainment.

Starring Bruce Willis (Frank), John Malkovich (Marvin), Mary-Louise Parker (Sarah), Helen Mirren (Victoria), Anthony Hopkins (Bailey), Lee Byung-hun (Han Cho Bai), Catherine Zeta-Jones (Katja), Neal McDonough (Jack Horton), David Thewlis (The Frog), Garrick Hagon (Davis), Tim Pigott-Smith (Director Philips) and Brian Cox (Ivan).


Rushmore (1998, Wes Anderson)

The best moment in Rushmore, the one it all comes together, is at the end, when Jason Schwartzmann dedicates his play to his mother. There’s a brief cut to Seymour Cassel and his reaction. It’s a beautiful little moment and quieter than the subsequent (and also incredibly quiet) moment with Vietnam vet Bill Murray tearing after watching the play. There’s stuff going on in Rushmore and Anderson and Wilson aren’t going to explain it to us. They make us aware of it–there’s an early mention of Murray’s service and a good deal of material about Schwartzmann’s mother’s passing, but there’s never anything about Murray’s feelings about Vietnam or Cassel’s experience with his wife’s death. It’s a stunning little move, infinitely precise, which might be the best way to describe Rushmore.

The film runs ninety-three minutes. Anderson and Wilson’s narrative, so exactly told in scene, has a searching quality to it. It’s impossible to label the film–it’s not just a friendship story between Schwartzmann and Murray or a (albeit strange) romance between Schwartzmann and Olivia Williams or a romantic triangle between Schwartzmann, Williams and Murray. Rushmore is all of those things, in addition to being a father and son story, a friendship story (between Schwartzmann and sidekick Mason Gamble) and a romance between Schwartzmann and Sara Tanaka. I can’t even get into the relationship between Schwartzmann and Brian Cox. It’s all too intricate and complex. It’s a film where the way an actor walks into the frame changes a scene dramatically, so unraveling and codifying it is a lot more work than I want to do (and probably impossible without a lot of notes). It’s an exponential web.

The first time I saw Rushmore, it didn’t blow me away. Looking at it now, with the performances–there isn’t a single unimpressive performance–with Anderson and Wilson’s control of dialogue and scene, not to mention Anderson’s direction… it’s clear there was something wrong with me. The second time I saw it, I got it. But even getting it, I don’t think I really appreciated it the way one can appreciate the film now. Every line delivery is full of so much vibrance–the scenes with Schwartzmann and Williams, it’s hard to even listen, because watching Williams’s reactions to him is so great.

The film also asks a great deal of its audience. The viewer has to fill in, in an instant, what Schwartzmann’s been doing since dropping out of school–Anderson and Wilson put the the onus on the viewer to arrange all the details him or herself. Or when it has to be clear to the viewer Murray and Williams have broken up before Schwartzmann asks about it. Rushmore is not a passive experience.

As for Murray… Rushmore really is Murray’s finest performance, before he started chasing Oscars. He’s as present in scenes where people talk about him as he is in his actual scenes.

Schwartzmann runs the film. He has to carry the whole thing not just with his performance, but with his presence. Schwartzmann’s expression rarely changes, but the character development–and seeing how he’s reacting–is stunning.

Williams, Gamble, Cox, all are great, all have some fantastic scenes. The script asks a lot of the actors, because they have to sell things in short periods of time, brief moments, and everyone comes through perfectly. Williams’s performance might be the film’s best, even better than Murray’s, which seems kind of impossible but kind of not.

Rushmore is a magnificent film.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Wes Anderson; written by Anderson and Owen Wilson; director of photography, Robert D. Yeoman; edited by David Moritz; music by Mark Mothersbaugh; production designer, David Wasco; produced by Barry Mendel and Paul Schiff; released by Touchstone Pictures.

Starring Jason Schwartzman (Max Fischer), Bill Murray (Herman Blume), Olivia Williams (Rosemary Cross), Seymour Cassel (Bert Fischer), Brian Cox (Dr. Nelson Guggenheim), Mason Gamble (Dirk Calloway), Sara Tanaka (Margaret Yang), Stephen McCole (Magnus Buchan), Connie Nielsen (Mrs. Calloway), Luke Wilson (Dr. Peter Flynn), Dipak Pallana (Mr. Adams) and Andrew Wilson (Coach Beck).


Red (2008, Trygve Allister Diesen and Lucky McKee)

Red‘s a really safe movie. I’ve seen Noel Fisher play a young creep multiple times on television–just a few weeks ago even–and I’ve seen Kyle Gallner play the sensitive kid who hangs out with the creep. Twice for him. And casting Brian Cox as a loner who loses his dog and relentlessly pursues justice… well, it’s Brian Cox. It’s the kind of thing Cox has been doing for years. He’s really good, but he’s really good because he’s Brian Cox, not because the role has much depth to it.

The script’s very confused when it comes to that depth. Cox has a long, devastating back story. It comes out in various scenes with Cox reluctantly revealing himself to Kim Dickens. But the film starts so fast–the third scene is the big one, Fisher killing Cox’s dog–it makes all that eventual fill-in unnecessary. Worse, for a film with an utterly predictable conclusion, Red manages not to tie any of Cox’s character’s strings together. Sure, if his back story weren’t so tragic and so terrible, it’d be natural not to have the pieces together, but the film makes such a point about them. It seems to be an oversight.

The film’s actually pretty hard to watch. It’s one of those “rich people with influence escape justice” pictures, but with the crime here (and Cox’s good performance) so cruel and senseless, it’s a constantly unpleasant experience. Directors Diesen and McKee–there are no hints at who directed what or why the film needed two directors, it hardly appears to be a difficult prospect–take the unpleasantness one step further with some of the conversation pieces. Cox’s house is horrifyingly decorated, like the wall paper is supposed to make the viewer’s stomach turn, and the scenes with he and Dickens set there are difficult to endure.

The direction does have some high points. It feels very British at times, like a Masterpiece Theatre entry sensationalized and set in America. I think Diesen’s Norwegian, which is–cinematically speaking–close enough.

While Dickens has the film’s second or third biggest role, she frequently disappears and it always seems like she’s off in a better movie. It’s not really her fault, it’s the script. The script, at the end, both acknowledges her muted attraction to Cox… and his fear of aging (which had never been brought up before). The oversights mount up, especially as the film barrels through the third act, knocking down false ending after false ending.

The rest of the supporting cast is excellent–particularly Richard Riehle and Robert Englund. Tom Sizemore’s got a decent-sized role, but his character makes absolutely no sense after his first scene. Sizemore’s hair is dyed blonde, which looks bad, but he’s got a solid energy to him when he needs it. His writing isn’t good.

If one were to think about Red too long, the entire film would collapse. Not because of the Cox stuff, though. Cox is golden here, except he’s perfectly safe. There’s no risk and, subsequently, no reward.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Trygve Allister Diesen and Lucky McKee; screenplay by Stephen Susco, based on a novel by Jack Ketchum; director of photography, Harald Gunnar Paalgard; edited by Jon Endre Mørk; music by Søren Hyldgaard; production designers, Leslie Keel and Tiffany Zappulla; produced by Steve Blair, Diesen and Norman Dreyfuss; released by Magnolia Pictures.

Starring Brian Cox (Avery Ludlow), Kim Dickens (Carrie Donnel), Noel Fisher (Danny), Tom Sizemore (Michael McCormack), Kyle Gallner (Harold), Shiloh Fernandez (Pete Doust), Richard Riehle (Sam Berry), Amanda Plummer (Mrs. Doust) and Robert Englund (Willie Doust).


Manhunter (1986, Michael Mann), the restored director’s cut

The last time I watched Manhunter (the first time I saw the director’s cut), my friend maintained the film’s superiority laid in the added scenes. The director’s cut mostly features more scenes concerning the effect of manhunting serial killers on William Petersen’s character. On this viewing, it’s clear the film’s greatness isn’t so simply assigned. While Manhunter‘s approach to the serial killer genre–the emphasis on the investigation’s psychological destruction–and those additional scenes to contribute, it isn’t the only factor. Also incredibly important, maybe just as important, is Mann’s humanization of Tom Noonan’s serial killer. Manhunter‘s actually at its lowest point when the Petersen-centric plot comes to a close. A lot has gone on (even though the film’s approach to police stings–a distant one, without explaining anything to the viewer–is brilliant) and it seems like it’s not going anywhere, the film switches focus to Noonan and becomes something wholly new. Mann doesn’t juxtapose the characters, he doesn’t mirror them; the scenes are totally unrelated, except in the beat when Petersen has his eureka and Noonan has his meltdown. And then it’s only stylized cinema.

Mann’s approach to the filmmaking, the vibrant colors, the singular composition (I can’t imagine what it must have looked like on a big screen), the synthesizer soundtrack, wows. It sets Manhunter apart not just from every other serial killer movie but also every other Mann film. He takes what is, at most times, a small and quiet story and makes it as big as Cinerama. The realization montages are still unparalleled and the procedural investigation ones are spectacular as well. But Mann’s best scene, maybe his best scene as a director, is still that walk down the supermarket aisle where the boxes don’t match from shot to shot. The way he opens it up. It’s absolutely brilliant.

All of the acting is good. Petersen isn’t perfect, but he has some great moments. His “my man” line reading, combined with the score and the sound, is great film. Noonan’s great, as are Joan Allen and Brian Cox. Dennis Farina, back before he had his schtick down, is also good. Only Stephen Lang is a little broad, though it’s probably intentional, as he is playing a tabloid reporter. The best performance in the film is Kim Greist, though Mann’s probably responsible for it.

I always think about turnarounds–quality turnarounds–and I think Manhunter‘s the best example of one with a bump-up (due to the Noonan focus) from superior genre picture to an actual masterpiece. It’s strange, because I can remember it getting monotonous in the middle, but I’d never use that word to describe the film.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Michael Mann; screenplay by Mann, based on a novel by Thomas Harris; director of photography, Dante Spinotti; edited by Dov Hoenig; music by Michel Rubini; production designer, Mel Bourne; produced by Dino De Laurentiis and Richard Roth; released by De Laurentiis Entertainment Group.

Starring William Petersen (Will Graham), Kim Greist (Molly Graham), Joan Allen (Reba McClane), Brian Cox (Dr. Hannibal Lecktor), Dennis Farina (Jack Crawford), Tom Noonan (Francis Dollarhyde), Stephen Lang (Freddy Lounds), David Seaman (Kevin Graham), Benjamin Hendrickson (Dr. Frederick Chilton), Michael Talbott (Geehan), Dan Butler (Jimmy Price), Michele Shay (Beverly Katz), Robin Moseley (Sarah), Paul Perri (Dr. Sidney Bloom) and Patricia Charbonneau (Mrs. Sherman).


Red Eye (2005, Wes Craven)

The saddest thing about Red Eye is Wes Craven. The film opens with an action movie build-up montage, which he handles fine (for what it is), moves into an Airport movie, which he handles fine, turns into an actor-based thriller, which he handles fine. What doesn’t he handle fine? What does he handle so poorly I’m asking rhetorical questions? The slasher movie chase through the house scene in the last act. To be fair, the script completely falls apart in the third act too, when the immediate action and the abstract catch up with each other, but still… Wes Craven has probably directed ten movies with these scenes, most with multiple instances, and he can’t do it here? For lower budget Hollywood film, Red Eye has a lot of gloss and it really, really doesn’t serve Craven in those last minutes. I kept wondering, actually, if Red Eye were originally intended to be Scream 4 (hell, it would have been better if it had been) and if Rachel McAdams was just a stand-in for Neve Campbell.

What surprised me, in a good way, was how well Craven handled McAdams, even after she turned into Ellen Ripley. I kept thinking he did a lot of female heroines, then remembered I was thinking of someone else. McAdams is solid throughout, even during the misfired last act, but it’s really nice at the beginning when she and Cillian Murphy are bantering. The biggest problem with the last act is it disregards the chemistry between the characters. They start doing unbelievable things in the way they act towards each other and then Murphy loses the ability to speak… All the suspense is also flushed after a certain point and Craven tries to carry the thing on his handling of the house chase, which is ass. During the majority of the film, it looked like Craven had a real talent for picking projects he could bring a flare to without dousing in Craven-muck. Then the end submerges the whole thing in it.

The film’s also got some politics problems. Even if I was the type of person to have sympathy for a Homeland Security director with the rhetoric of Joseph Goebbels, the movie doesn’t properly present the character (played by Jack Scalia, looking grateful to get the job). He’s not a believable target, it’s not a believable situation, so whenever that aspect comes up, it’s best ignored. There’s good stuff going on for a while, so it can be ignored… until the end. When there’s a CG rocket and Wes Craven’s inability to direct an action scene becomes painfully clear.

Like I said, McAdams is fine. Likable, appealing–in the situation. She doesn’t make the character likable, but that inability could very well be because the script hinges on the character’s secret… (It’d been better if she’d been a ghost. Or Sidney from Scream). Murphy’s great, having a lot of fun during the majority of the film until the script crashes. Brian Cox is apparently saying yes to every single script someone sends him. He’s hamming it up, but he’s decent at hamming, so whatever. If it’d been a real performance, the movie might have been a little better but not really.

Oh, jeez, I just realized… McAdams really isn’t stronger than Murphy in the end. Damn. I totally should have run with it. There’s a whole male vs. female thing running through it and it’s her dad who saves her, which is even worse than my standard example, John Carpenter’s Someone’s Watching Me!, when fate intervenes.

But, really, whatever.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Wes Craven; written by Carl Ellsworth, based on a story by Ellsworth and Dan Foos; director of photography, Robert D. Yeoman; edited by Patrick Lussier and Stuart Levy; music by Marco Beltrami; production designer, Bruce Alan Miller; produced by Chris Bender and Marianne Maddalena; released by DreamWorks Pictures.

Starring Rachel McAdams (Lisa Reisert), Cillian Murphy (Jackson Rippner), Brian Cox (Joe Reisert), Jayma Mays (Cynthia) and Jack Scalia (Charles Keefe).


Zodiac (2007, David Fincher)

If Steven Spielberg used to be “the kid who’d never grow up,” I always figured David Fincher would always be “the disaffected teen who never grew up,” which is why Zodiac is so surprising. It’s a mature, thoughtful work, one I wouldn’t have even associated with Fincher if I hadn’t known. It’s calm and thoughtful, opening with the old Paramount and Warner Bros. logos, with a score from David Shire–the goal doesn’t seem to be to emulate a 1970s movie (the hit-heavy soundtrack wouldn’t have happened yet), but to reorient the viewer into that time period. When Fincher gets to the early eighties, he’s got this establishing shot at an airport and a plane takes off and there’s something really beautiful about it. Planes take off, whatever, three a minute and on sunny days, like this day in the film, it probably looks really nice… but I’d spent two and a half hours with the Zodiac killer, so it really jarred me. Made me appreciate Fincher not as an aesthetically pleasing director, which he’d always (ideally) been, but as one who could find the extraordinary in the everyday, which he’d never been.

Zodiac shifts its attention between the crimes, the reporters, and the police. For a while, it’s all the crimes and the reporters and for a while it’s all the crimes and the police. It seems like, at the beginning, it’s going to follow Jake Gyllenhaal–he’ll lead the viewer through the story–but then he disappears and, even before he does, it becomes clear Zodiac‘s not following a character-centered narrative. It’s not even about the effects of obsession on the characters. It shows the effects, but it’s really just a very straightforward narrative–first of the Zodiac killings from the San Francisco Chronicle‘s point of view, then from the investigating inspectors (I love how San Francisco calls them inspectors), then from the book writer (Gyllenhaal) as he does he research. It ought to not work, since that narrative model is mostly gone these days. In some ways, the roving narrative and the music, it reminded me of Summer of Sam while watching it, then I had to correct my interior dialogue not to defame Zodiac with such a comparison.

Of the actors, Ruffalo is the best. He’s first billed, but his character remains the most–not enigmatic or sketchy, but off-center–then he has a little scene towards the end and I realized his story throughout the film occupied a whole layer of the narrative and it was great and he was doing some amazing work. Amazing Ruffalo work is, probably, the best acting there is to be seen anymore. As the Chronicle lacky then book author, Gyllenhaal’s good, maybe even excellent, since the film makes no bones about his character not exactly being relatable. He’s supposed to be a little lame. It’s the closest the film comes to making any judgment on its characters. Robert Downey Jr. really doesn’t have an above the title role, but he’s great when he’s in it, which is no surprise. It’s Anthony Edwards who gives the most surprisingly good performance, just because it’d never occurred to me he could be so good, which has more to do with me… well, no it doesn’t. It has to do with “ER,” but whatever.

I kept having to remind myself during the film, it’s not a good example of modern cinema. I was ready to skip down the street and sing the praises of American filmmaking like it was 1999 or something, then reality kept knocking, so I had to accept I’d just have to get Zodiac on DVD… It’s rather indulgent, I just realized; Fincher submerges the viewer and holds him or her down in that bathtub, not letting them loose until the final epilogue card fades. It’s an unbelievable achievement for him, a significant one for twenty-first century American cinema, and just a lovely experience.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by David Fincher; written by James Vanderbilt, based on books by Robert Graysmith; director of photography, Harris Savides; edited by Angus Wall; music by David Shire; production designer, Donald Graham Burt; produced by Vanderbilt, Mike Medavoy, Arnold W. Messer, Bradley J. Fischer and Cean Chaffin; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Jake Gyllenhaal (Robert Graysmith), Mark Ruffalo (Inspector Dave Toschi), Robert Downey Jr. (Paul Avery), Anthony Edwards (Inspector Bill Armstrong), Brian Cox (Melvin Belli), Elias Koteas (Sgt. Jack Mulanax) and Chloë Sevigny (Melanie).


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Match Point (2005, Woody Allen)

Woody gave an interview in “Entertainment Weekly” of all places and talked about how he’s gone through so many critical ups and downs, he’s not phased by Match Point‘s good press. It’s certainly his most commercial film in recent memory… probably since Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex … But Were Afraid to Ask. Really–it’s incredibly commercial. Thrillers are always commercial, even when they’re impeccably cast, written, directed, and scored. Match Point is really good, sure, but it’s not some amazing “return” for Allen.

I realized that–that Match Point and its praise, from people considered with box office potential–really early into the film, actually. Something about the pacing of the first act, maybe that it was set in London. It’s beautiful to see Allen do films in London, since he got to use some great actors–Ewen Bremner and Colin Salmon showed up for Alien vs. Predator reunion, for example. For all the great press Scarlett Johansson is getting, Jonathan Rhys-Meyers is better. But I read once, I think in a review of Curse of the Jade Scorpion, that Woody makes the most profound observations about the human condition when it wouldn’t seem like he was trying… when he was most comfortable. Obviously, there are some flaws in this theory (yes, Broadway Danny Rose is profound, but so are September and Interiors), but Match Point isn’t a comfortable Woody Allen. The narrator isn’t Woody or even a facet of him.

As good as Match Point turns out–it owes a lot to Ealing comedies, I won’t spoil anymore–it’s not a better made film than Melinda and Melinda, which had story problems, but was the best filmmaking Allen’s done since… well, not that long. Sweet and Lowdown was a beautifully made film.

Match Point‘s only a revelation to people who think Woody’s gone somewhere. He hasn’t… so it’s just another good Woody Allen movie.

There are twenty-five other good ones too.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Written and directed by Woody Allen; director of photography, Remi Adefarasin; edited by Alisa Lepselter; production designer, Jim Clay; produced by Letty Aronson, Gareth Wiley and Lucy Darwin; released by DreamWorks Pictures.

Starring Jonathan Rhys-Meyers (Chris Wilton), Scarlett Johansson (Nola Rice), Emily Mortimer (Chloe Wilton), Matthew Goode (Tom Hewett), Brian Cox (Alec Hewett), Rupert Penry-Jones (Henry), Colin Salmon (Ian), Ewen Bremner (Inspector Dowd) and Penelope Wilton (Eleanor Hewett).


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