Tag Archives: Kevin Spacey

Working Girl (1988) 3.71/5 (2)

 

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Rating: The Good – 75.8
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Duration: 113 mins
Director: Mike Nichols
Stars: Melanie Griffith, Harrison Ford, Sigourney Weaver

Of its time but in the best ways possible, Mike Nichols’ Working Girl is a superior rom-com starring Melanie Griffith as an ambitious secretary who, on discovering that her ruthless boss (a delightfully obnoxious Sigourney Weaver) has stolen her idea for a lucrative merger, assumes the role of an executive to close the deal herself. Along the way, she inevitably falls for the man helping her to put it together (Harrison Ford in top comedic form) while evading any and all situations that might disclose her real identity to him and everyone else. Working Girl achieves that priceless balance between the drama and romance by laying out a well developed plot and seamlessly weaving it with the various romantic angles. Nichols compensates for Griffith’s acting limitations by setting a comedic tone just wacky enough to forgive her flat delivery but not so much that it detracts from the relative sophistication of the story. Ford greatly assists him in this endeavour as he demonstrates, yet again, his impeccable timing and instincts for light comedy while Weaver proves equally critical with a brave and perfectly judged turn that she uses, like Ford, to coax the best out of Griffith. Nichols composes the entire thing with polish and remains master rather than victim to the business and fashion cultures from which so much of the humour is derived but the jewel in the movie’s crown is undoubtedly Kevin Wade’s witty screenplay that Ford in particular has a ball with. All that plus an electric Alec Baldwin as Griffith’s old squeeze, and some glorious cameos from Oliver Platt and Kevin Spacey ensure that Working Girl sits right at the top of that era’s genre offerings.

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Outbreak (1995) 3.57/5 (5)

 

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Rating: The Good – 67.6
Genre: Thriller, Action
Duration: 127 mins
Director: Wolfgang Peterson
Stars: Dustin Hoffman, Rene Russo, Morgan Freeman, Donald Sutherland

Wolfgang Peterson’s star-studded thriller proves yet another mainstream success for 1990’s cinema as Dustin Hoffman’s USAMRID Colonel attempts to stay ahead of a lethal virus which is laying waste to a small California town. With former wife and CDC big-wig (Rene Russo) in tow alongside his own team (an Oscar-laden Kevin Spacey and Cuba Gooding Jr.), they go about town disobeying orders from their shadowy superiors, breaking quarantine, and any number of other drastic measures in the hope of manufacturing an antibody before Donald Sutherland’s nasty General destroys the whole town – simply to keep the virus for his own biological weapons programme! It’s a sweeping popcorn movie expertly crafted to draw every bit of tension out of an old plot and infused with all manner of personality, chemistry, and light humour by that glittering cast. Hoffman, in particular, seems to be enjoying himself no end while Russo shows yet again that she can not only hold her own next to any A-Lister in the business but enhance both of their performances with that endearing rapport she seems to so easily generate. Sutherland is the straight bad guy but Morgan Freeman gets his teeth into an altogether more textured role as the General who discovers that duty and honour make for poor bedfellows. Throw in a couple of cracking helicopter chases and a last minute dash to stop the town’s imminent destruction and you’ve got a decent night in front of the box.

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The Usual Suspects (1995) 3/5 (1)

 

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Rating: The Good – 88.8
Genre: Crime
Duration: 106 mins
Director: Bryan Singer
Stars: Kevin Spacey, Gabriel Byrne, Benicio Del Toro

Supremely captivating noir-ish crime thriller that spins an intricate tale about a group of elite hijackers who are brought together by an outside force and get mixed up with crooked cops, drug dealers, and an underworld boss who nobody is sure exists but everyone is scared of. This is one of those films that redefined the genre and, in doing so, it set a new standard for every subsequent crime film. High school buddies Bryan Singer (director) and Christopher McQuarrie (writer) became household names after this one and it’s not difficult to see why. McQuarrie’s hugely original and slick writing combines perfectly with Singer’s taut and stylish direction to give this film a truly unique look and a feel. Most of the actors on show give career best performances. Spacey got the Oscar but he is matched by Stephen Baldwin, Benicio Del Toro, and Chazz Palminteri. However, this is undeniably Gabriel Bryne’s film as his broody, charming, and serious Dean Keaton more than any of the other character sets the tone for this film from start to finish. A special mention of John Ottman’s dual role is appropriate also as he not only gives us one of the most memorable scores of the 90′s but is also responsible for the film’s super slick editing.

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Seven (1995) 4/5 (1)

 

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Rating: The Good – 74.2
Genre: Crime, Mystery, Thriller
Duration: 127 mins
Director: David Fincher
Stars: Morgan Freeman, Brad Pitt, Kevin Spacey

Not the crime masterpiece some would have you believe but David Fincher’s dark thriller about two homicide detectives searching for a killer who’s crimes reflect the seven deadly sins is nonetheless a strong effort that still packs a punch. The drawback, however, is that the film has too strong a sense of itself which at all times seems to drive the narrative instead of the other way around. As such, it often veers into cliche and melodrama concerning the hopelessness of humanity etc, etc. Thankfully, the integrity of the performances and the graininess of Fincher’s direction does help to attenuate this problem, somewhat. Fincher was still in his angsty punk-cinema phase so we have lots of edgy direction and gritty force but we also have signs of the more mature and disciplined director he was to become as he frames and paces his story immaculately. Brad Pitt is interesting and enjoyable as the cocky young detective while Morgan Freeman is excellent as the more seasoned and disillusioned detective. It’s not always easy to watch due to scenes of graphic and implied gore but it’s worth doing so if only for the dramatic close this film comes to.

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Margin Call (2011) 4/5 (1)

 

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Rating: The Good – 78.4
Genre: Drama
Duration: 107 mins
Director: J.C. Chandor
Stars: Zachary Quinto, Stanley Tucci, Kevin Spacey

There have been a few attempts to depict the types of wheeling and dealings that underlay the catastrophic financial meltdown of 2008. Some have missed the mark such as Oliver Stone’s Money Never Sleeps while some have got closer like Curtis Hanson’s TV movie Too Big to Fail. However, all fall in the wake of J.C. Chandor’s elegant Margin Call. It won’t take long to guess the real life investment bank that the story focuses on even though it’s never named and the film plays carefully on the audience’s still raw nerves to augment the sense of impending doom.

Margin Call begins with a series of humiliating and utterly tactless firings by the corporation in question as they proceed with their most recent culling. As one of the higher profile victims of the purge (Stanley Tucci’s risk manager) is escorted out of the building, cardboard box in hand, he gives his protege (Zachary Quinto) a disk containing a risk analysis he was in the middle of completing. When the younger analyst stays late and completes the work, he discovers that the bank is chronically over extended and has somehow ended up with more potential dept on its books than the entire value of the company. The cavalry are scrambled and a series of panicked meetings are held proceeding up the echelons of the company until the head honchos, led by Jeremy Irons’ master of the universe, are choppered in to take drastic action.

What that action is we probably already know and it ain’t good for the rest of the world but Chandor’s great achievement here is that he nonetheless keeps us on tenterhooks. He also prevents this film from becoming a finger pointing exercise, thereby distracting from the overarching issue, the inherent fault within the system. There are no unequivocally bad guys here. They’re all human beings just trying to make the best of their situations. Yes, some are more ruthless than others within those parameters and all are guilty of looking after themselves without the smallest consideration for anyone else but there’s nothing that would reflect typical evil archetypes. As it happens, this approach also makes the film more engaging because each of the characters are allowed to grow into something more real than a caricature and so the crisis is continuously informed by their strengths and weaknesses. Everybody is extremely smart at their own job, egocentric enough to remain ignorant of the other’s, and reckless enough to ignore that problem.

If the story of the crisis describes a perfect storm of contributory factors, the film represents an almost perfect coming together of writing, acting, and directing. The script is often electric and pitched at just right level. The dialogue is technical but not so it loses the audience. It’s also articulate and infused with an escalating anxiety. But amazingly, it’s also very subjective. Every sentence uttered reveals more about the characters’ sentiments while assuredly driving the subtle emotional angles to story. There are moments towards the end of the film when the dialogue runs a little flat but thankfully the personality of the players fills the breach. Kevin Spacey is better than he has been in some time as the head trader whose personal life intersects with the emerging crisis in a manner that both steels him to pressure from above and makes him more sensitive to the implications it will have for the profession he still values. Quinto (who also produced the film) is the slightly incredulous number cruncher extraordinaire who is almost imperceptibly assimilated into the machinery of his company as the night rolls on.

Spacey and Quinto both put in interesting shifts as do Tucci and Demi Moore but it’s Paul Bettany, Jeremy Irons, and surprisingly Simon Baker who churn and burn through their lines. Bettany adds an important vigour to the slow pace of the film as the cocky trader. It could easily have veered towards just another too cool for school turn but he underlays it all with a nervous energy not to mention a curiously revealed moral compass. Baker makes for a terrific second in command who levels his well written character with an unscrupulous calm. But he still manages to sheen his unflappable exterior with the odd bead of sweat which again helps to emphasise the seriousness of the situation. The arch scene stealer himself, Jeremy Irons, after a tasty if not brilliant directorial buildup from Chandor, is introduced later than the rest but he owns the camera when he enters its frame. He is the very definition of commanding as is required of his character but he too finds all manner of near invisible ways to imbue his character with subtle desperation. But at all times, his delivery is suave and erudite and he makes for addictive viewing.

The final touch of class is Chandor’s polished stewardship. Okay, so there are a couple of coarse metaphors scattered about the film but, for the most part, Margin Call is wonderfully constructed. Feeding off his precisely structured script, Chandor paces the film immaculately so that the film glides forward under the invading tension. There are also some artfully sculpted interior and exterior shots which are adroitly complemented by Nathan Larson’s softly mechanical and very beautiful score. However, it’s Chandor’s general use of sound that adds perhaps the most depth to the drama. Whether it’s from the nervous, defensive, and/or accusatory back-and-forths of the protagonists or the diegetic sound of the offices during varying states of business, this film seems to exude a natural unease from the use of its sound. And during a stunning 120 second segment, those sounds come together with that score to produce the movie’s critical scene. With so much quality, Margin Call should have fared better at the box office but the financial drama remains a niche draw. However, if ever there was a representative to demonstrate how good it can get when done right, it’s Margin Call.

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