Tag: Colm Feore

Chicago (2002)

Catherine Zeta-Jones struts her stuff in Rob Marshall’s fabulous Oscar winner Chicago

Director: Rob Marshall

Cast: Renée Zellweger (Roxie Hart), Catherine Zeta-Jones (Velma Kelly), Richard Gere (Billy Flynn), Queen Latifah (“Mama” Morton), John C. Reilly (Amos Hart), Christine Baranski (Mary Sunshine), Taye Diggs (The Bandleader), Colm Feore (Martin Harrison), Lucy Liu (Kitty Baxter), Dominic West (Fred Casely), Mya (Mona), Susan Misner (Liz), Denise Faye (Annie), Deidre Goodwin (June)

It’s become quite the fashion to knock Chicago. Heck I’ve done it myself. How did this mere musical win Best Picture? It’s not even as if the original production was much more than an entertainment. It’s another of those films diminished by whispers that it doesn’t deserve the title of Best Picture. But, look at the film with an unprejudiced eye, and you’ll see that this is the best stage-to-screen musical theatre adaptation since Cabaret. Chicago is such dynamic, high octane entertainment, you would have to a really cold heart not to enjoy it.

A heart as cold, perhaps, as most of the characters. Its set in a 1920s Chicago where it doesn’t matter what you are famous for, so long as you are famous. Who are the bigger stars? The people on stage of the infamous on death row? Roxie Hart (Renée Zellweger) is a wannabe who guns down her conman lover Fred Casely (Dominic West) when his promises of the stage career she’s dreaming of turns out to be all hot air. Roxie works out that she can turn her infamy into just plain fame – following the inspiration of vaudeville-star-turned-accused-murderer Velma Kelly (Catherine Zeta-Jones), who is now more famous than ever. With amoral lawyer Billy Flynn (Richard Gere) in their corner, can they play all sides against the middle and find freedom and fame?

Chicago’s debt to Bob Fosse is in almost every single frame. Rob Marshall’s brilliant choreography is inspired by Fosse’s own work for the original production. It means the entire film drips with the passionate sexiness of Fosse’s best work. It’s also inspired by Fosse’s Cabaret in its use of the musical numbers. There all the musical numbers were kept within the nightclub, acting as a subtle commentary on the events of the film. Here they occur in Roxie’s imagination, staged in a shadowy empty theatre with a mysterious band leader (a charismatic Taye Diggs) introducing each song. It’s a brilliant concept, that allows them to be staged with the sort of exuberance and theatricality that would look plain odd in a ‘real’ setting.

And what musical numbers they are! These are toe-tappingly, finger-clickingly fun, that will make you want to jump up and join in. Marshall’s choreography and direction is not only faultless, but also covers a range of styles. From the sultry opening of All That Jazz performed by Catherine Zeta-Jones, we get burlesque (When You’re Good to Mama), sensual sexiness (Cell Block Tango), knock-about farce (We Both Reached for the Gun), classic 1930s Astaire and Rogers (Roxie) and surreal madness (Razzle Dazzle). The one thing they all have in common is the high-octane energy they are performed with (no wonder all those dancers are so slim!), with no one leaving anything in the dressing room.

Chicago is possibly one of the best edited musicals ever made. Marshall gets a superb balance between camera movements, cutting and the dance numbers. We can appreciate – and see – every step of the intricate choreography, with clear camera movements and angles. But the film is also edited practically on the beat. Cuts accentuate changes in the tempo and even marry up with the exact movements of the dancers. Not only that, the numbers frequently cut from reality to fantasy and back again – and this parallel montage is superbly done, with perfectly timed transitions. The cutting complements each number so well, it actually makes them more exciting and dynamic. It’s a masterclass in using the language of cinema to accentuate the impact of dancing.

But Marshall manages to make Chicago not just a collection of amazing dances and fabulous tunes. In our celebrity worship age, Chicago feels increasingly more relevant – you can imagine Roxie would love to be on reality TV and would never be off Twitter. It doesn’t matter that she’s got no real talent (in fact it makes the fact that all the musical numbers are fantasies even more witty), she’s just desperate to be known. Shooting her lover is the best thing that’s ever happened to her and she’ll do anything to stay in the newspapers, from a fake pregnancy to playing the timid ingenue.

Everyone in Chicago is just playing the game. Velma is just as desperate to cling to fame – and her growing desperation at losing the limelight to Roxie is almost touching. Mama Morton, the quietly corrupt prison warden, lives vicariously through her inmates (she even dyes her hair to match Roxie’s). The media lap up the details of every killing, turning the trials into huge soap operas. And at the heart you have Billy Flynn, as much a showman as he is a lawyer, playing every angle and knowing its all about telling a good story rather than truth or justice.

Chicago is played with absolute commitment. Renée Zellweger is excellent as the fiercely ambitious, amoral Roxie, her fragile softness perfect for the image Roxie likes to project, just as she is able to twist her face into selfish meanness. Zeta-Jones clearly hadn’t forgotten her years of musical theatre, demonstrating she is a superb singer and dancer, her vampish glamour perfect for Velma’s dark ambition. Richard Gere (in a role turned down by Travolta, as he ‘didn’t get’ the framing device) channels his natural charisma and good natured smirk into a role that could have been made for him. Reilly is surprisingly sweet and effective as Roxie’s put-upon husband and Latifah hugely entertaining as the knowingly manipulative Mama.

Chicago may be “just a musical” – but you’d be hard pressed to find a better entertainment. The song and dance numbers are superb and the film still manages to land some blows on celebrity culture. Hollywood has always loved musicals – can you imagine how the viewers of Broadway Melody would have responded if they had seen this? – and with Chicago we get something we’ve not seen since the golden days of Bob Fosse. There are few Oscar winners as straight forwardly entertaining as this.

Face/Off (1997)

Nicolas Cage and John Travolta swop faces (yes really) in Face/Off

Director: John Woo

Cast: John Travolta (FBI Agent Sean Archer), Nicolas Cage (Castor Troy), Joan Allen (Eve Archer), Alessandro Nivola (Pollux Troy), Gina Gershon (Sasha Hassler), Dominique Swain (Jamie Archer), Nick Cassavetes (Dietrich Hassler), Harve Presnell (FBI Director Victor Lazarro), Colm Feore (Dr Malcolm Walsh), John Carroll Lynch (Guard Walton), CCH Pounder (Hollis Miller)

After five years, Sean Archer (John Travolta) has finally caught his nemesis, terrorist-for-hire Castor Troy (Nicolas Cage). But, with Castor in a coma, only his brother Pollux (Alessandro Nivola) – yup really – knows the location of the deadly bomb they planted in Los Angeles. With Pollux now in prison how can they get him to talk? Well obviously the easiest way is for Archer to undergo extensive, experimental surgery to alter his build, voice and (piece de resistance) have his face removed and replaced with Castor Troy’s. And of course, this should be top secret so no-one knows it happened. Because there is absolutely no chance Castor will wake up from his coma and have Archer’s face placed on his own head is there? But of course. Let the violent mayhem ensue, as Troy/Archer (Travolta) manipulates the FBI for his own ends and Archer/Troy (Cage) battles to reclaim his life and face.

Reading that, it won’t surprise you to hear that Face/Off is a hyper-reality film. Hailing from the 90s, when Hong Kong gun-fu director John Woo was seen as the auteur of action, every single thing is dialled up to eleven. Early in the film Archer is told that the voice-alterer attached to his vocal codes could be dislodged ‘by a violent cough’. Needless to say, it doesn’t shift once during the orgy of intense, balletic violence that follows, no matter how many times Archer/Troy flings himself through the air, guns blazing, or flips backwards to avoid bullets.

Face/Off it’s clear is a very silly film. It works, because it knows it is a very silly film. It dabbles only lightly in the psychological trauma of finding yourself in another body – and in Archer’s case not just any body, but the body of his son’s killer. But it’s less interested in that than in seeing the two actors have immense fun apeing each other’s intonations and mannerisms. Travolta in particular has a whale of a time as the id-like Troy/Archer, campily springing about the stage and good-naturedly mocking his own physique (“This ridiculous chin”), while prancing about with all the wide-eyed, giggling mania Cage has made his own.

In case you hadn’t worked it out in a film where faces can be swopped, nothing feels like it’s happening in the real world. Gun battles defy logic and physics. Archer’s obsessive pursuit of Troy in the film’s opening battle causes a jaw-dropping level of destruction, mayhem and death (in a real world, with his obvious psychological problems, he would have been off the case years ago). But then, he’s so reckless perhaps that’s why people don’t really notice when he’s replaced by Troy.

There are some interesting beats, many of them centred around Troy/Archer’s arrival in the Archer family home where he forms a superficial bond with Archer’s daughter (including saving her from assault from a creepy boyfriend) that, aside from his obvious insanity, perhaps things could be different (and there is a suggestion Troy/Archer plays with the idea of going straight – or at least a corrupt version of it). Joan Allen comes on board to add acting lustre as Archer’s doctor wife, so distant from her husband for years that she needs time to work out he’s been replaced.

But the film’s heart is in the violence. There are five or six action set-pieces that use every weapon in the Woo arsenal. Slow-mo? Check. Operatic grandness? Check. Walking with intent? Check. Diving forward while firing two guns? You betcha. Doves? But of course. Any real sense of logic is thrown out of the window, and really the film at heart is a comedy of two famous actors pretending to be each other, in between jumping at each other, screaming their heads off, practically making gun noises while they point their weapons, like maniac kids.

And, you know what? It works. Sure the entire enterprise feels very much of its time: and Face/Off captures Woo’s style so perfectly (with its huge body-count and reckless disregard for life and property) that he never topped it again. A director who basically could do one thing really well (future films would merely demonstrate his limitations), throwing himself into a film of intense silliness, with big-name stars having a whale of time and action set-pieces that make no real sense but are impressive to watch, he aces it here. Face/Off is an odd classic of its time, ludicrously silly but always choosing to double-down on its intense silliness – to gloriously entertaining effect.

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014)

Chris Pine comes out from behind the desk to head into the field in Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

Director: Kenneth Branagh

Cast: Chris Pine (Jack Ryan), Keira Knightley (Cathy Muller), Kevin Costner (Commander Thomas Harper), Kenneth Branagh (Viktor Cherevin), Len Kudrjawizki (Konstantin), Alec Utgoff (Aleksandr Borovsky), Peter Andersson (Dimitri Lemkov), Elena Velikanova (Katya), Nonso Anozie (Embee Deng), Colm Feore (Rob Behringer), Gemma Chan (Amy Chang), Mikhail Baryshnikov (Minister Sorkin)

Jack Ryan is the all-American, ordinary-analyst-turned-CIA Agent at the centre of the late Tom Clancy’s books. He’s been played by a range of actors, from Alec Baldwin to Ben Affleck via Harrison Ford, but his character remains the same – a boy scout, a man of principle and simple courage, pushed to do what must be done. He’s smart and quick-witted. Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit was meant to serve as another reboot, to restart the Jack Ryan franchise after a mixed reception to Ben Affleck’s The Sum of All Fears. Sadly, it was another false start.

An origins story, it opens with Ryan (Chris Pine) studying at the LSE, before joining the marines in the wake of 9/11. He is critically injured in a helicopter crash, where he hauls two men from the wreckage while suffering from a broken back. Learning to walk again, he falls in love with Dr Cathy Muller (Kiera Knightley) and is recruited as a financial analyst by Thomas Harper (an effectively gruff but charismatic Kevin Costner) from the CIA’s Department of Making-Sure-We-Don’t-Get-Hit-Again (catchy name). Collecting financial intelligence while working as an auditor at a Wall Street firm, he notices some worrying financial deals from funds controlled by Russian tycoon Viktor Cherevin (Kenneth Branagh). Going to Moscow under the guise of auditing Cherevin, he and Cathy quickly find themselves embroiled in a dangerous terrorist conspiracy.

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is decent fun. It’s also a rather impersonal and safe piece of film-making, that structurally and creatively feels like a 1990s action film reset in the 2010s. In a world of Jason Bourne, it genuinely feels a little old-fashioned and uninspired. It takes recognisable elements from dozens of action films and remixes them with a certain flair, but not a lot of imagination. It feels like the least “Branagh” film Branagh has directed, the camerawork being surprisingly restrained and contained considering his love of sweeping opera and dynamic, showy visuals.

But Jack Ryan is not a bad film, it’s just an enjoyably average one. It puts Ryan front-and-centre of the film, and Chris Pine really delivers in establishing Ryan’s old-fashioned principles of right and wrong, his sense of duty and his willingness to do what needs to be done when called. Pine also does a great job of demonstrating Ryan’s fear and panic as he finds himself increasingly out of his comfort zone – not least in a terrifying hotel bathroom brawl with an under-used Nonso Anonzie – in the aftermath of which he drops his mobile while trying to call for backup, and then can’t remember where the hell “Location Gamma” is when told to report there to meet a contact.

Of course, this incarnation of Ryan as an analyst rushed into the field doesn’t last, and the film succumbs from there to turning Ryan into an old-school action man, the sort of guy who drives cars at 85 mph through Moscow streets with ease, jumps on a motorbike and roars off in pursuit of a bomb with maverick self-assurance and takes on a trained assassin with a Die Hard-ish confidence. It’s a shame that the interesting character work of the first 2/3rd of the movie gets lost in the final third – but it’s another sign of the film delivering what it feels an action film should be rather than finding something unique and original.

At least Pine gets some good material to work with, which is more than can be said for Kiera Knightley. For all her American accent, this is Knightley at her most British Rose, her toothy, coy grin ever-present in every scene – and that’s about all she contributes. Not that this is entirely her fault, since Cathy is a character sketched on a fag packet, a successful doctor who obsessively worries that her husband is having an affair, making her feel weaker and needier than the filmmakers perhaps realise Later she exists to be a Damsel in Distress, and is then given a spurious involvement in identifying the villain’s target – which she identifies not because it is a medical facility she is familiar with, or perhaps somewhere she visited as a child or on a professional call-out, but solely because Her Man works there. (As if these CIA geniuses couldn’t work out that a financial terror attack on the US might be targeting Wall Street).


The villain’s plot is dully labyrinthine, but can be safely boiled down into having something to do with financial chicanery and a bombing attack, to destroy the US economy. Not that it really matters – it allows a suitable mix of booms, bangs and the sort of tense “breaking into the office to download the files against the clock” sequence that you’ve seen several times before. Kenneth Branagh cuts himself a bit short with Cherevin, a character who seems sinister but is really barely competent and hits every villain trope from pervy leering to executing an underling. We barely get any sense of his motivations or his background.

He’s also probably the only Russian nationalist in the world who is a Napoleon Bonaparte fan. Last time I checked, Napoleon was the enemy in the War of 1812 that redefined Russian history for the next 100 years. But then I’ve read a few Napoleonic era books, so I’m biased… This film clearly knows nothing about Bonaparte, with Ryan declaring at one point that the planned attack is “straight out of Napoleon’s playbook” – how Napoleon’s trademark fast movement and combined use of infantry and artillery, drilled to perfection, relates to a basic distraction strategy I don’t know but never mind. But then this is a dumb action film that name checks Napoleon because you’ve probably heard of him, rather than because it makes sense.

There is a lot to groan at, or say meh to, in Jack Ryan. But yet, I’ve seen it three times and it grows on me each time. Chris Pine is a very likeable screen presence, and the build-up of the film works well. Branagh directs it with a taut efficiency, even if it’s a film that lacks any real inspiration and feels like one for the money. But it presents its 1990s-style action beats with enough conviction and sense of fun that you kinda go with it. Yes it’s totally forgettable, but run with it and you’ll find yourself strangely charmed by it.