Latest Reviews

Entries in Ben Kingsley (3)

Thursday
May022013

Iron Man 3

If you ask me “The Avengers” was one of the most overrated movies of last year. For those of you who haven’t already stopped reading, allow me to explain. Despite some good laughs and some high flying action, I found “The Avengers” to be narratively unfocused. Its tone was inconsistent, its drama fell flat and the character progression that had developed through each hero’s individual movies was brought to a screeching halt. With the exception of perhaps Thor, every character ended the movie exactly the same as they began. While not necessarily a bad thing to shoot for mindless popcorn entertainment, I wanted more, especially given that the majority of the other films had done such a good job getting those characters to that point. “Iron Man 3,” at least in this sense, is a return to form. Tony Stark is still the lovable goof we know him as, but we get to see a different side of him this time, a side that one might not expect from a world renowned superhero. Despite some terrific action, this is substance over style and that is its greatest strength.

The film takes place after the events of “The Avengers” and Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is even more of a celebrity than he was before. However, those events have caused some emotional trauma within him and he’s finding himself unable to sleep at night, despite his gorgeous girlfriend, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), laying by his side. He instead spends most nights tinkering with his tools and building Iron Man suits. This may prove to be a good thing, however, because a terrorist named the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) has been blowing up landmarks all across the country and now has his sights set on the President. After one of these explosions puts his old bodyguard and friend Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) in the hospital, he takes it upon himself to challenge the Mandarin and sets off to stop him before he harms more people.

Robert Downey Jr. did a marvelous thing when he first became Iron Man back in 2008. He took a comic book character that, at least when compared to the heavy hitters like Batman, Superman and Spider-Man, was considered third rate and instantly made him his own. The character he created out of Tony Stark instantly hooked viewers, catapulting Iron Man to A-list status, right alongside those aforementioned heroes. However, the success of the character and the movies themselves didn’t rest entirely on Downey Jr.’s performances, but rather his performances were complemented by clever stories and witty dialogue that fleshed out the character. In “Iron Man 3,” his character comes along even further.

After the events of “The Avengers,” Tony Stark is afraid. He’s suffering from what could only be classified as post-traumatic stress disorder and has become uncertain of his abilities. The pressure has become too much to bear and at multiple points in the movie, he has to battle panic attacks, knowing all too well that he is the only one that can stop the evil Mandarin and his terrorist lackeys from killing again. Watching a superhero try to cope with these conflicting thoughts and emotions—the desire to do what’s right with the fear of failing—is fascinating and though it’s not an entirely unexplored area in superhero movies, doing so with the otherwise cocky Stark gives it more weight. He’s not a character that openly wrestles with his emotions, but rather one that hides them under the veil of confidence. To see them finally surface makes this “Iron Man,” at least in regards to character exploration and progression, the best of them all.

This theme isn’t entirely consistent throughout the movie, however, particularly when he essentially becomes a stealth assassin and singlehandedly infiltrates the Mandarin’s hideout while taking out a number of armed bodyguards on the way (all outside of his suit, too). To follow up scenes of doubt and dread with some of the boldest actions he’s ever pulled off in the calmest demeanor he’s ever had shows an all too obvious conflict between the film’s desire to provide thrills while also telling a meaningful story. Yet one can’t help but be thankful that theme is at least implemented. This is a film that aims higher than popcorn action like “The Avengers,” which didn’t try to hit these emotional levels at all.

What some may find surprising—and the reason this character evaluation succeeds despite some stumbles—is that Tony Stark spends far more time outside of his suit than in. “Iron Man 3” is far more focused on character and plot than bangs and booms. This focus doesn’t only relate to Stark either, but the other characters as well. In particular, one terrific plot twist brings about some huge laughs and makes us reevaluate the antagonist in a way we rarely get to at the movies.

“Iron Man 3” has nearly everything one could want from a superhero movie and wraps up the trilogy in an exciting and satisfying way, and that’s in spite of its flaws. It’s tough to say if this will hold up alongside the plethora of other big name action movies being released in the coming weeks, but it’s a terrific way to start the summer and proves that superhero movies are far from running their course.

Iron Man 3 receives 4/5

Tuesday
May152012

The Dictator

Sacha Baron Cohen is no stranger to the absurd. After three progressively ridiculous films, Ali G Indahouse, Borat and Bruno, all of which were based on characters from his HBO program, Da Ali G Show, it’s clear the man has no limit. He’ll go anywhere and everywhere if it means he’ll get a laugh, even if that means pushing the boundaries beyond what many would deem tasteful. What those people fail to see, however, is the biting satire hiding beneath its immature and offensive veneer. His show as well as his films (Ali G Indahouse notwithstanding) have displayed unimaginable examples of racism, homophobia, religious bigotry and more through a mockumentary style where the camera is turned on us, exposing the more hateful thoughts some of us manage to disgracefully conjure up. His latest film, The Dictator, abandons that mockumentary style and, transitively, much of its satirical bite. Save for a few inspired moments, The Dictator is more absurd comedy than social commentary, but it’s one that is undeniably funny, right on par with 21 Jump Street as the funniest movie of the year.

The tagline for The Dictator reads as such: “The heroic story of a dictator who risks his life to ensure that democracy would never come to the country he so lovingly oppressed.” If you find humor in that sentence, this movie is right up your alley—no further convincing should be needed—but I’ll continue on for those who want a bit more background. Baron Cohen plays Admiral General Aladeen, the dictator of the fictional North African country of Wadiya. He’s in the process of creating nuclear weapons, which the United Nations isn’t too happy about. In response, they demand he address them regarding his plans for the weapons, so he heads off to America. However, his backstabbing advisor, Tamir (Ben Kingsley) has plans of his own and orders to have him killed. After escaping his seemingly inevitable death (now without a beard—his single most defining trait), he learns of a double being used to eventually sign a constitution that will bring democracy to Wadiya. He can’t let that happen, so he begins working at a hippie, left wing shop run by a feminist named Zoey (Anna Faris) that is catering the event in the hopes of infiltrating it, taking back his rightful place as dictator and assuring his people don’t receive democratic freedom.

It’s understandable to bring some hesitance into a viewing of The Dictator. One of the main reasons Baron Cohen’s two best films are so good is due to their approach. They followed only the most thinly mapped out stories and allowed the comedy to surface not so much based on Cohen’s presence, but more so on the reaction of the unwitting participants to what he was actually doing. The same can be said for the satire, as shocking and disgusting as some of it may have been. By throwing himself into precarious situations that yielded interesting (and sometimes dangerous) results, Cohen was able to point out flaws in our actions and beliefs. Leaving all that behind could have led to a movie that felt too safe, one that stuck too closely to a script and didn’t allow his sensational improvisational skills to shine, but such is not the case. The Dictator doesn’t necessarily feel scripted—the string of events in this movie are so bizarre, they feel more like random happenstances—and the ad-libbing remains intact. The narrative dialogue that must be said for the story to progress is never prominent enough to overshadow some of the film’s on-the-spot vocal concoctions.

Whether Admiral General Aladeen is learning the joys of self pleasure or giving a speech about what’s possible in a dictatorship, (of which all were done in the democratic America), the end result is almost always hilarious. What disappoints the most about The Dictator isn’t that the expected commentary isn’t there, but rather that it tries to be there, but isn’t fleshed out enough to work. It occasionally brings forth the wretchedness of many people’s discriminatory behavior, but those themes were explored more thoughtfully in his previous films. Although a spoof on dictators and dictatorships in general, it too fails to make any real point about them, instead only pointing out the obvious, like the superiority complexes that can rightfully be assigned to any dictator. Not every movie has to include an enlightening take on a particular subject—leaving it out is just fine if you have a technical prowess behind the production—but including it and failing is something worth addressing. That unfortunately happens here.

Still, The Dictator delivers on the laughs so frequently that you don’t miss the commentary that was featured so prominently in Borat and Bruno. Sacha Baron Cohen is once again fearless with his performance, proving he’s a force to be reckoned with in the comedic world and the soundtrack, which is full of Middle Eastern renditions of popular American songs like Dr. Dre’s “The Next Episode,” is so offensive you can’t help but laugh at it. I may never look at Forrest Gump the same way ever again, but that’s a small price to pay to laugh as much as I did while watching The Dictator.

The Dictator receives 4/5

Friday
Feb192010

Shutter Island

At the movies, actors are considered the most important to the viewing public because, hey, that's who they're seeing onscreen. Although they do offer considerable depth, films are made by dozens, sometimes hundreds of people. Most do their job off camera and receive little respect for it, even directors in most cases, but not Martin Scorsese. Perhaps the most notable of all living directors, Scorsese has crafted a body work unparalleled in the film world. From Taxi Driver to Goodfellas to The Departed, the man has routinely delivered solid work with films that are largely considered to be some of the greatest of all time. His genius still holds true with his latest effort, Shutter Island, based on the book by Dennis Lehane, a brilliant, haunting tale of morality and mentality that explores the difficulty of living through painful memories and what it means to accept them.

Leonardo DiCaprio is captivating as Teddy Daniels, a federal marshal on his way to Shutter Island, a land mass in Massachusetts where a mental institution rests. Along with his partner Chuck, played by Mark Ruffalo, he has been hired to find a missing patient who escaped the previous night. The head psychiatrist of the penitentiary is Dr. Cawley, played by Ben Kingsley, who explains to them that there's no logical explanation for her escape. Her cell door was locked from the outside and the only window is covered with bars. As he puts it, "It's as if she evaporated straight through the walls." After Teddy searches her room, he finds a note that simply says, "The law of 4" and "Who is 67?" As he finds clues, he discovers that not all is as it seems on the island.

However, things don't seem right within Teddy either. He is haunted by his troubled past and the atrocities he experienced in WWII a mere 10 years ago, he is having more and more vivid hallucinations of his dead wife, played by Michelle Williams, who burned up in a fire by a man supposedly held at this very institution and he is becoming increasingly weaker as time goes on. He has even been taking pills provided by the institution workers. Is he being drugged? Are they trying to keep Teddy there? If so, for what purpose? He sets out to find the answers, but must act quickly if he ever hopes to get off the island.

Appropriately, Shutter Island is like a book that you want to flip to the last page so you can see how it ends. The questions it raises linger and never go away, begging you to find the answers and I wanted nothing more than to skip to the end if only so I could finally find out what was happening. However, if I'm being honest, the ending isn't something that we've never seen. In fact, it's pretty common of any film that takes place in an insane asylum to naturally go this route, so yes, you'll probably figure out as you watch that only one of two endings are even possible and you'll be able to narrow it down to one with your knowledge of how movies generally work, but you'll nevertheless be shocked by its intricacies. It's not a simple case of that's that. It's more like a brain teaser, working in a way that even after you know the answer you have to think back and place the pieces in the correct slot.

Much of the astonishment from the ending comes from the terrific acting leading to it, though it would be impossible to delve into why some performances worked so well without giving away vital points of the story. While Ruffalo and Kingsley were great, as was Jackie Earle Haley in a particularly inspired cameo, DiCaprio steals the show. He plays a multi-layered individual dealing with heartache, fear, confusion and a sickness begun from the opening scene where he and his partner drift up to the island on a ferry that increases as time goes on. He mesmerizes in another award worthy performance, especially during the more emotional scenes. Nobody can cry like DiCaprio.

Of course, it's impossible to talk about a Scorsese picture without talking about the man's direction. As should be an obvious remark by now, Scorsese directs this picture with a style unseen in Hollywood. If you ask me, he actually tones it down a bit with Shutter Island, never forcing camera movements when it isn't prudent, but rather keeping a steady eye on what's going on, allowing his actors to do their jobs. His stylistic touch was fantastic from the simplest of shots to the recurring motif of flickering lights that can be analyzed in so many different ways you could write a term paper on it.

This is a tall claim to be throwing out when you're discussing a body of work as impressive as Scorsese's, but I believe Shutter Island may be one of his best. It's meaningful, enlightening, beautiful and intense all at the same time. It's one of those films that you walk out of and feel like watching again immediately. It's a testament to the skill of the talent involved and it shows that ingenuity still exists in an increasing Hollywood world of sequels and remakes.

There's one line of dialogue, the last one in the entire movie in fact, that set my brain racing. It's a line that has stuck with me ever since I've seen it and sparked discussion with those around me. It's a summation of the whole film and really gets to the core of life and the disparity between what can really be considered sane and insane, so I'll leave you with it to ponder over.

"Is it better to live as a monster or die as a good man?"

Shutter Island receives 5/5