Cinema Movie Review: Gone Girl (2014)

rosamund-pike-in-gone-girl-movie-4Gone but not forgotten

It’s usually a pretty good sign when the writer of a top-selling book collaborates on the bringing to the screen of her baby, so it was a relief to find that Gillian Flynn had gone one better and done all of it herself. Good too, to see David Fincher in the director’s chair – a man who finds it difficult to make a bad film but who came very close to pulling it off with Alien 3 (1992). Fincher brought Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross along to add their brand of electro-melancholia to the proceedings, too. Surely this had to be a hit?

Not-really-spoiler alert: It was a hit but wish me luck in getting through the next couple of paragraphs without leaking too much in the way of plot details. Obviously, this wasn’t going to be the standard missing persons fare, with much hand-wringing and gnashing of teeth. Oh, hands are wrung and teeth gnashed for sure but not for the reasons you might expect.

The story opens with Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) standing, alone, in his front yard, staring into space. The reason for his pensive mood is the diappearance of his wife, Amy (Rosamund Pike). Obviously upset, he does all the TV appearances, co-operates fully with the cops and does what anyone else would do, were their wife gone. in time, it transpires that the press might not believe him to be all sweetness and light and start a campaign of fear, uncertainty and doubt around him.

The constant attention of Desi Collins (Neil Patrick Harris) was always a concern, could he have something to do with Amy’s disappearance? It seems Nick’s only true friend in the whole world is his sister Margo (Carrie Coon). His ‘celebrity’ lawyer Tanner Bolt (Tyler Perry) has hisback but the game he plays isn’t always as savoury as it might be.

Small but pertinent rant begins here

A lot of people seem to have already written reams about how this film is an obvious polemic to feminism and how it portrays how badly women are treated in society. An equal number have written on its misandry, using the same or similar arguments to present the opposite viewpoint. Vast swathes of text also appear in a simple Google search about the number of ‘plot holes’ in the film. My, how the basement-dwelling neckbeards and Fedora-wearers like to rehash everything their friends have said and pass it off as their own unique insight into the creative process. “But it’s all wrong” they bleat into their chosen social media platform, adding to the reams of pointless tosh already writen on the subject.

Tell you what guys (and it largely is guys, sadly) if you don’t feel you can suspend even a little disbelief for a couple of hours and just sit back with your popcorn in one hand and sparkling beverage of choice in the other and just enjoy the fucking movie, stay at home. When we want your opinion, we’ll beat it out of you.

Small but pertinent rant ends here

For the rest (majority) of us, sit back and enjoy the ride. Isms aside, this is a story that plays off man against woman in their respective geder roles, until it doesn’t. or does it? It also relies heavily on the interaction of no more than five characters, in essence. It’s a hard thing to keep going for over two hours, except with a great cast and a director who knows his way around these things like the back of his hand. Aside from my personal suspension of disbelief wavering slightly at the thought of Neil Patrick Harris not being Barney from How I Met Your Mother (2005-14) it’s very easy to wonder where the time went. Ignore the internet nay-sayers and enjoy this creepy and nerve-jangling potboiler.

149 mins.

Cinema Movie Review: Stoker (2013)

stoker-2013-nicole-kidmanBlack belt

Director Chan-wook Park’s (Oldeuboi (Oldboy) (2003)) and Lady Vengence (2005)) Stoker (2013), is his first picture with English dialogue. Given that Park doesn’t speak any English, you’ll suspect that his lack of language skills may have hindered the storyline. I heartily disagree. His use of creative imagery, effective camera angles and tracking of characters make Stoker a reel of images that is hard to shake even days after its first viewing.

The film begins as India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska) learns her father has died in a car accident. Peculiar at it seems at the time, little attention is given to the fact the accident was over two states away. No one knows why he was so far away from home. No one even knows whether it was suicide or foul play. Either way, the only person she trusted is now gone. Her mother (Nicole Kidman) is already off her rocker. Add a deceased husband to the mix, along with a mysterious visitor, and you don’t have the most stable environment for a teenage girl. India needs a role model.

At the beginning of the film, India is trying to come to terms with her genetic disposition. She states: “I wear my father’s belt, over my mother’s blouse…” in reference to how she has taken, for better or worse, certain characteristics from each of her parents. The question is – just how deep will she accept these qualities?

At her father’s funeral, a mysterious Uncle Charlie (Mathew Goode) appears. It doesn’t take long for India to show her discomfort around Uncle Charlie, but quickly that discomfort shifts to intrigue. Uncle Charlie shows he wants to provide India and her mother support during this difficult time. While India’s mother finds solace in Uncle Charlie through late night dinners and drinks, India finds comfort in Uncle Charlie’s dark secrets. Just as Uncle Charlie and India’s relationship takes a most unusual and discomforting turn one night, India witnesses a heinous crime by her uncle. After assisting the crime, India realizes an aspect of her true self she couldn’t pinpoint before and begins to understand what she really is – a murderer.

Where Park thrives the most is emphasizing sounds, colors, and images to further the storyline and instill his ideas, again for better or worse, in your head. Camera angles are accentuated and expertly used to further the story. Infatuated stares, shifting eyes, close-up of belts – these all show what Park needs us to focus on. It’s his way of saying, pay attention to this; I’ll come back to it later. These over exaggerated sounds, colors, and stares, accompanied with under exaggerated feelings and emotions, produce an experience unlike any film this year.

Overall, Stoker is a masterful example of  storytelling. After a viewing, you’ll see the comparisons to a Hitchcock thriller, but this tale has a style of creativity that is distinctly Park. He may have worn Hitchcock’s blouse while filming, but he is definitely wearing his own belt.

99 mins.

Cinema Movie Review: Night Train to Lisbon (2013)

1167154_night_train_to_lisbonPicturesque but lacking pace

I’ve never read a book that was so inspiring it caused me to leave my job, board a train, and interview people for the better part of a week.  However, I have seen a film or two that made me yearn to throw my computer out the nearest window, grab my passport, and leave all worries aside.  The picturesque shots of Lisbon and the film’s cinematography are the brightest portion of this film.  Just not quite bright enough.

Bille August directs Pascal Mercier’s international bestselling book of the same name about a man who leaves his boring life behind and travels to Lisbon to find out more about a mysterious book.  The story begins with Raimund Gregorius (Jeremy Irons) saving a young Portuguese woman from committing suicide on a bridge in Switzerland. Before long the young woman disappears leaving behind her red coat, a train ticket to Lisbon, and a small book.  Raimund reads a few passages from the book and is surprised by its philosophical depths.  Noting that the woman’s train leaves within the hour Raimund hurries to the train station hoping to find the young woman.  Without the young woman in sight and the train departing, Raimund spontaneously jumps onboard the night train to Lisbon.  However, he is no longer interested in finding the young woman, but instead to find the author who wrote this inspiring book.

The film partly follows Raimund as he attempts to uncoil the events within the book written by a Portuguese doctor, Amadeu de Prado (Jack Huston).  The rest of the movie focuses on flashbacks based on the conversations Raimund holds with people from Amadeu’s book.  Amadeu’s book is a series of notes he accumulated as he reflected on events that took place during António de Oliveira Salazar’s dictatorship.

It is unclear when the book begins in Amadeu’s life, but Amadeu had become a doctor before deciding to assist his friends in a coup against the then government.  Raimund finds Jorge O’Kelley (August Diehl) and Joao Eca (Marco D’Almeida), two of Amadeu’s friends, upon his arrival to Portugal and is told stories about Amadeu and Jorge’s girlfriend from this time, Estefania (Melanie Laurent).  A love triangle soon develops as Estefania falls for Amadeu and the future of the group is changed.  Estefania and Amadeu soon create an intimate relationship that fizzles just as quickly as it sparked.

Overall, the portions of the film told in flashbacks are the most effective scenes in the film.  Mélanie Laurent (brilliant as Shosanna in Inglourious Basterds (2009)), August Diehl (just as brilliant as Major Hellstrom in …Basterds) and Jack Huston (who plays one of the best characters in recent years in the TV series Boardwalk Empire) all provide quality and convincing roles.  However, the pacing of the storytelling never allows any tension to be built and the fine performances by these three young actors are less effective as a result.

By the time the young woman Raimund saved earlier in the film re-emerges, we are no longer interested in her story.  We are also no longer invested in Raimund’s character, as he has refused to emerge from his lonely and boring shell. Overall, however, the film is worth seeing for the flashback scenes and enticing shots of Lisbon – I can say with confidence that Lisbon just moved up on the list of places I want to visit this summer.

111 mins.

DVD Movie Review: The Lady Vanishes (1938)

Lady VanishesNow you see her…

Way back into cinema history we go, for a much-respected early Hitch talkie, The Lady Vanishes (1938). Based on the short story The Wheel Spins by Ethel Lina White, with a screenplay by Sidney Gilliat and Frank Launder, Alfred Hitchcock‘s film presents us with an intriguing ‘locked-door’ mystery – what has become of the amiable Miss Froy (Dame May Whitty), whom marriage-bound socialite Iris Henderson (Margaret Lockwood) met on a trans-European express, and who then seems to disappear into thin air, with none of the other passengers in her carriage seeming to remember her? There’s dirty work afoot, that’s for sure…

Hitchcock pulls off a remarkable sleight-of-hand trick with this, which manages to avoid its potentially stagy pitfalls with some aplomb. The introduction of the mystery, coupled as it is with the intrigue as to why everyone is suddenly denying that Miss Froy was ever on the train, which the seemingly helpful Dr. Hartz (Paul Lukas) is only too happy to explain away as being the result of Henderson banging her head earlier in the film, creates a genuine sense of unease – it’s a good job that the charmingly caddish musician Gilbert (Michael Redgrave) is on hand to ensure fair play, and the chemistry that is achieved between him ‘n her is more than a little racy for 1938, as is Hitch’s fondness for allowing Lockwood to show off her damn fine legs on numerous occasions.

As with all the best mysteries, there is perhaps the wish that the explanation that is ultimately provided could not have been more fantastical, but this is still a racy, fun romp into espionage. Enjoy.

96 mins.

Oldeuboi (Oldboy) (2003)

Korea in killing

Wow. Just simply, wow. This is something of a white-knuckle ride in cinematic terms. From the gentle rumble and gradual change of pace at the beginning of the ride, when you’re slightly nervous and anticipation tingles on your tongue like the taste of brushed steel, to the sudden realization that you’re about to be hurled headlong into a situation that’s frantic, disorienting and that you’re unable to exert control over, to the sweet relief of the denouement, where you emerge breathless, exhilarated and buzzing with adrenaline. Like the metaphorical ride, it leaves you with a sense of relief that it’s all over and the counter-intuitive feeling that you may just want to do it all again.

Never the one to shy away from hyperbole, I insist you see this Korean diamond before someone like me spoils it by going on and on about how good it is (James, are you listening?). The premise of Oldeuboi (Oldboy) (2003) is deceptively simple, the  protagonist, Dae-su Oh (Min-sik Choi) has had a little too much to drink one evening and is on his way home to his daughter’s birthday party when he is inconvenienced by being arrested and abusing the cops. They eventually let him go when his friend turns up to bail him out. His friend leaves the police station to make a call and Dae-su is gone when he gets back. Dae-su awakes to find himself imprisoned in a small cell, in which he is fed and occasionally gassed so he can be groomed and washed. What he doesn’t know, is that he will be there for 15 years.

One day, he awakes to find himself on the roof of a building with a suitcase full of cash, an expensive suit and no idea how he got there. He is free. Or so he imagines. It soon becomes apparent that he must find his captor, and do it within five days. Incidentally, I use the word ‘protagonist’ here because I don’t feel  I can’t truthfully use the word ‘hero’. You’ll really need to see it to appreciate why.

I hope I have been suitably vague in my description of the film’s events. I really don’t want to spoil it for you. What I am able to disclose is that the story is very well crafted and the little twists, turns and asides that director and co-writer Chan-wook Park throws our way during the ride don’t disappoint. People will tell you there are plot holes and, yes, there may be a couple, but I think that if you watched this simply for continuity errors and/or plot inconsistencies, you would not only be missing the majesty of the piece but may also need to leave your mother’s basement occasionally and get some sun, as your melatonin levels are probably low. From each jarring smash-cut to every sickening scene transition the story undulates in intensity, offering rare and tender insights into the previous life of Dae-su, contrasted sharply by scenes of high-intensity graphic violence. The retina-burning colours smoothly supplanted by washed-out, tired and faded visions of the past all expertly handled so you’re barely aware you’re being manipulated, as the majority of the main characters so obviously are.

As promised, I at least will not spoil anything for you. I will just leave here: If you have a strong constitution, do not mind some high-quality, graphic violence and people eating live octopodes, you’re in for an absolute cinematic treat. Oh, sorry – did I not mention the live octopus? My bad.

120 mins. In Korean.