Cinema Movie Review: SPECTRE (2015)

FIRST-LOOK_postSo Poor, Even Colin Took Real Exception (SPECTRE)

Warning: There may be huge and unannounced spoilers in this review.

What a complete donkey of a Bond film this was. It’s like there’s going to be a thing in future movie lore that suggests every even-numbered Craig Bond is going to be absolute toilet. If Craig has the cojones to make a fifth, it had better be fucking phenomenal. Casino Royale (2006): a splendid return to Bond form, Quantum of Solace (2008): James went on about it but it wasn’t, on reflection, very good at all. Skyfall (2012): Woohoo! It had the lot. SPECTRE (2015): just a bit shy of being utterly unwatchable. Honestly, your friendly reviewer here was enjoying the hospitality provided at the premiere and it may have been the low lighting, the heat, or the two (OK, five) really good glasses of Bollinger I had but I shut down for a little snooze about half an hour in. Seriously, James had to hit my arm to make me wake up. I’m now sorry I may have missed the best 10 minutes of the film.

Let’s start with the credits, shall we? They look like they were done on a tight budget, which we all know isn’t true because the film cost around a squillion pounds to make, or thereabouts. Dreadful kaleidoscopey images with seemingly random faces from Bond’s past popping up for reasons only the ad agency could work out. Unimaginative, uninspiring and dull. One thing that wasn’t dull was the theme tune. Not only is it the worst Bond them ever, topping anything done by anyone else, it’s also a piss-poor attempt in its own right. I admit I had to look it up on the internet. It turns out it’s done by some caterwauling no-talent called Sam Smith and is called The Writing’s on the Wall. The writing on the wall was evidently “you suck”. Pathetic, weedy vocals squeak out a tune that manages to be both forgettable and grating at the same time. Just dreadful.

Where were we? Oh yes, there was a film going on. Sam Mendes (for it was he at the helm of this particular disaster) can knock out a decent film or two, as he has before but this time even his usually deft hands had trouble with a story and script so knowing, self referential and, quite frankly, dull that I stopped caring about it very early on. I watched the rest objectively, looking for the good and yes, there were a few top-drawer jokes, some clinically executed set pieces and a few pretty faces (male and female) to gawp at, depending on your preference. Let’s take these faces and play a little game called “what the hell were they thinking if it wasn’t about the massive pay cheque?” Starting with the most well-known (in my house) Daniel Craig: Looked like he couldn’t be bothered half the time. The words ‘contractual’ and ‘obligation’ sprung to mind. Christoph Waltz: managed an amazing coup by playing exactly the same villain he played in Inglourious Basterds (2009) but slightly less convincingly. His softly-spoken-with-a-big-stick schtick (try saying that fast) is wearing a little thin. Ralph ‘Raif’ Fiennes: couldn’t be more gangly and awkward as M if he tried. Practically invisible. Monica Bellucci: super sexy, all over Bond like a rash, made me think “hello, things are looking up”. She was in it for what seemed like five minutes, tops. Never saw her again. Ben Whishaw: Q never gets going and plays a rather wimpy role in this outing. Not Whishaw’s fault but you can’t polish a turd. Naomie Harris: sexy, funny, more than a match for Bond as we know, hardly appears at all. She’s a supporting actor at best, which sucks something fierce when you consider how she kicked it in Skyfall. Léa Seydoux: who cares? Really. She’s a doctor – just, I suspect to ‘prove’ that the Bond tits-and-teeth can be intelligent too. I bet feminists across the world are wondering if they’ll be out of business tomorrow. She looked well enough, which was at least half her job but again (and through no fault of her own) a weak script and some terribly executed character development made her almost an accessory after the fact. If the fact was ‘sexy doctor loves the taste of a man’s tonsils’.

Overall, you see, there were no characters to invest in, let alone to have ‘an arc’, as they say these days. ‘Facts’ about Bond, Oberhauser (Waltz) the old M, the new ‘C’ (Andrew Scott) and even SPECTRE itself were tossed into the script with a gay abandon that suggests you should either already know them, or that they were inconsequential and not really worth bigging up too much. When you figure out the how and why of one particular snippet, and the ramifications for all future Bond movies, you’ll be wishing there was a pause button in the cinema so you could hit it and go “hang on, what did he just say?”

Now then, you may have thought I’d forgotten to do a plot synopsis. I hadn’t, I was saving the best ’til near the end. Only joking, the story was paper-thin and had more holes than something with lots of holes in it. We kick off in Mexico City on the party day of the year, La dia de los muertos. Bond interrupts whatever he’s doing to go for a rooftop stroll in what I’ll grudgingly admit was a quite awesome piece of camerawork, in a five-minute tracking shot to ice some villain or other in a convoluted fashion to eat into some 15 minutes of the film’s total running time of what seemed like six hours. This made Bond a very naughty spy and he got a telling off for his refusal to stick to the playbook.

Also angry at his maverick attitude was the new boy, C. C is a Centre for National Security big cheese looking to consolidate spying services for Her Majesty’s government plc. Or is he? Yes. Or is he? No idea. Anyway, he takes Bond’s gun and badge, metaphorically, so Bond is forced to go under-undercover and enlist the help of Q and Moneypenny, both of whose time he wasted, really. Other things happen that lead him to SPECTRE HQ and there’s some snow and Oberhhauser is really that guy from Inglourious Basterds and there are some mischievously placed drills and a laughable monologuing scene and there’s a bit where things will blow up in three minutes – or will they? Again, I couldn’t really give a toss.

My final issue was with the colourization of the thing. Every new scene seemed to start in what appeared to be a washed-out pastel shade of some colour or other and, while reasonably easy on the eye, served no purpose, unless some of the film-studies groups out there can tell me why? The CGI in the opening scene was so obvious it hurt and the camera merely served to document rather than to bring anything much else to the party. That could also be due to the boredom factor a lot of the time. Not much really happens, and it takes a bloody ice age to happen when it does, save for the times the writers decided they wanted to introduce a potentially earth-shattering piece of information, when it was tossed into the script like bread to ducks. The ducks had long since lost interest.

Disjointed, messy, over-long and painfully obvious that Craig has had enough of being adored by millions of women worldwide and decided to back-pedal through the whole thing. Here’s the bit when the reviewer ties it all up with an elegant and witty quote and everyone thinks he’s cool. Except I leave you genuinely heavy-hearted in the knowledge that Bond will never be the same again and that complacency made it so. I really wanted to enjoy SPECTRE but I got so little to work with it felt like a labour of love where it should have been spontaneous. A real pity.

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: The Counselor (2013)

The-Counselor-2013Mexican mess

Catherine Feore returns with her thoughts on Ridley Scott‘s latest.

Well, who would have thought – it is a bad idea to have any truck with Mexican drug cartels! That is certainly the message that I’m taking home from this movie.

Mexico’s drugs war is undoubtedly a very ruthless business, and the word ‘war’ is not a misnomer – it is estimated that more than 80,000 people have died in drug-related violence in Mexico in the past seven years, some in particularly grotesque acts of revenge on whole communities.

Despite the obvious dangers, ‘the counselor’ (Michael Fassbender) finds himself up to his oxters in a Mexican drug deal that goes wrong. It isn’t terribly clear why the counsellor has got himself in this situation, other than the fact that he wants to buy an expensive engagement ring for his girlfriend Laura (Penélope Cruz) – we even accompany Fassbender on a trip to Amsterdam to buy the said ring. I imagine that this shopping trip was meant to be infused with deep meaning that I missed, because otherwise it should have ended up on the cutting room floor. If there is a lesson to be learnt about the dangers of consumer culture it comes from the product placement dotted throughout the movie.

The credentials of the film look promising, some good actors, particularly Fassbender, Ridley Scott as director and the great writer behind the Border Trilogy and The Road, Cormac McCarthy . Sadly, though, the film is a complete turkey. Cameron Diaz as the villainous girlfriend of Reiner (Javier Bardem) is Diaz’s best comic role since There’s Something About Mary (1998)she looks as if she’s having trouble keeping a straight face by the end of the movie, especially when she launches into a ridiculous parable about hunting, and there is an earlier scene where she ‘f**ks’ a Ferrari (please note, a FERRARI). I would tweak with the casting for the comedy remake, Javier Bardem does a good comic turn too, but maybe Michael Fassbender could be replaced by Ben Stiller. Cormac McCarthy’s script, while unwittingly ridiculous, could be redrafted for a few more laughs and I would welcome less violence.

I am of course being facetious, but more seriously, what is happening in Mexico is horrendous and deserves a better film, with a more Mexican cast.

117 mins.

DVD Movie Review: Sin City (2005)

446534Short and sweet – unlike the film

OK, I’m not going to waste anyone’s time here. In a mere two paragraphs, I shall explain exactly why it is you should never waste any of your hard-earned cash on seeing this excercise in mental masturbation by usually reliable names. If it saves you even a few pounds/dollars/euro, I’ll consider my work done. Here goes:

Everybody I have come across who’s seen it raves about how much it’s like the comics. I suppose this is something to do with comic book author Frank Miller’s involvement in scene selection, storyboarding and direction. I would generally say this was a bad thing, not something to be celebrated. Let’s say you’re a massive fan of the band Talking Heads (and why wouldn’t you be, they were awesome) and you went to see a show. If it was just like the album, track-for-track and if you closed your eyes you could be at home listening to the album, you could have conceivably saved a few coins and done just that. Remaking something frame by frame (see: Psycho (1960)) does not make it good, it makes it artless and cold.  On the subject of ‘art’, the film opens with a scene in black-and-white, where the girl’s lips and dress are coloured bright red. A nice effect and a good use of green-screen technology. It would stand very well in music video but when it’s dragged out for over two hours, with various bits coloured for whatever effect they were attempting to achieve, it becomes pretty tiresome.

The story is deliberately noir with cheap-looking matte backgrounds and props and the actors dressed in pseudo-fifties costumes. Fine, a bit of pantomime, why not? the joke is pushed a little too far and any minute, i expected the curtain to lift, the colour to kick in and to feel overwhelmed by a sense of not being in Kansas any more.  The narration is supposed to be in the style of Sam Spade but just serves to accentuate the fact the actors are hamming it up. I wouldn’t mind if it was supposed to be funny – either that, or I missed the joke. The men are all rugged (except Kevin (Elijah Wood), who’s the best thing in the film by a country mile), the women are all sexy and are dangerous, giving them the kind of pseudo-empowerment that you could only get away with in cinema. All in all, it looked very much like director Robert Rodriguez was trying to emulate Tarantino, who also guest directs a short segment. It’s all jobs for the boys and nobody benefits. Overall, Sin City (2005) tries very hard to be clever, populist and indie and fails at all three.

124 mins.

Cinema Movie Review: Gravity (2013)

GRAVITYHold tight

Gravity (2013) isn’t just another space junket for science geeks. Director Alfonso Cuarón (Children of Men (2006)) has captured the face of survival against the awesome backdrop that only space can provide. Gravity is extraordinary in every way possible. From the performances to the atmospheric surroundings, as an audience member, you will suffer through the hollowness of space to the claustrophobia within a space suit just as the characters do.

A medical engineer, Doctor Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock), and an American astronaut, Matt Kowalski (George Clooney), are in the final stages of repairing the Hubble telescope. As they relish their full-time jobs and begin to wrap-up their final assignment, the worst possible scenario occurs. In the flash of an eye, the comforting voice of Houston Control (Ed Harris – seemingly reprising his role from Apollo 13 (1995)) warns the two of an approaching issue that leaves Dr. Stone and Kowalski in full survival mode for the remainder of the film.

To capture the terror and obstacles both Ryan and Kowalski encounter, Cuarón masterfully switches from inside Ryan’s helmet to her chaotic surroundings without ever breaking the shot. Not for a second did I think there were two actors in front of a blue screen. Not once did I feel anywhere else other than floating through space.

It is a bit of a shame that Sandra Bullock won her Oscar for such a (in my ornery opinion) horrible movie in The Blind Side (2009). Her character was one we’ve seen a thousand times before (and we will see a thousands times after). As Ryan Stone, however, she delivered the depth and despair the role required. Sandra Bullock deserves to have received her Oscar achievement for this. Although her character didn’t have a drastic arc throughout the storyline, never once did your eyes shift from her when she was on screen. The film could not be effective unless she has the perfect balance of presence and fear—and she does.

I loved this film, and seeing it in 3-D only made it more enjoyable. If it weren’t for the jaw-dropping effects, my chin would have been sore from the amount of tension. The vast space between the characters and earth is a stark reminder of the likelihood of death and doesn’t allow you to rest until the credits roll off the screen. It twists and turns your insides.

There are no gimmicks in the narrative. There is no love story, no flashbacks, not even any frames with Houston in it. It’s only two people drifting in space doing everything to muster the courage to survive. The film set out to take you to a place you’ve never been before, and it achieved its goal. I recommend you sit back, and let Gravity cast you adrift.

91 mins.

DVD Movie Review: Dead of Night: The Exorcism (1972)

Exorcism2Guess who’s coming to dinner?

We go back to the BBC’s golden age of TV spookiness here, with Don Taylor‘s The Exorcism (1972), which itself was the first episode of seven in Dead of Night, a supernatural series made when the macabre was still taken seriously, and the actors involved played it absolutely straight. Ah, happy days – sadly, only three of the original series survive in the BBC’s archives, but at least this is one of them and, along with Peter Sasdy‘s The Stone Tape (1972) (which was originally intended to form part of the same series, but was eventually broadcast as a one-off Christmas Day special in 1972) is among the very best horror ever made for the glass teat.

Edmund (Edward Petherbridge) and Rachel (Anna Cropper) have invited Dan (Clive Swift) and Margaret (Sylvia Kay) to their eminently desirable new country home for Christmas dinner – proud of his new abode, which he had done up from the very old and run-down country dwelling that it was originally, Edmund tells Dan that he got the place for ‘at least fifty quid, but not much more’ (rar-rar-rar), before Clive opines that anyway, he wants to be ‘a rich socialist’. It’s all rather irritatingly smug, and the tone continues when the four sit down for dinner. But then…the lights go out, the phone goes dead, Edmund is convinced that his wine has turned to blood, and all four suffer violent illness when they taste the turkey. Things are about to get mighty strange, mighty quickly…

Taylor, who also wrote this, originally worked primarily for radio, and it shows here, but in a very good way. The scares, when they come (and believe me, they do), are far more aural than visual – you really have the sense of being as trapped as the four unfortunates are, and their supernatural captors have a more-than reasonable point to make. True, the social commentary dimension of the scares is laid on somewhat heavily, but the skill of the writing, suggestiveness of the atmosphere and genuine sense of impending doom that the story creates are near-matchless.

A truly scary step back in time, and many thanks to the rather fine website British Horror Television for their excellent background on The Exorcism.

50 mins.

DVD Movie Review: Nothing But the Truth (2008)

nothing_but_the_truth_2008_3The more things change…

Before his ill-advised and not-terribly-well-received remake of Straw Dogs in 2011, director Rod Lurie showed us what he can really do at the helm of a picture. I use the term ‘at the helm’ advisedly here, as it’s pretty much a one-man show, with Lurie having not only produced and directed but written the piece as well. Due to a fairly limited release in cinemas across the globe – problems with the distribution company going up the Swanee, apparently – it will not have been available to the popcorn and hot dog set. It has done very well on DVD however and I was lucky enough to come across a copy courtesy of our good friends here in Belgium, Paradiso Entertainment, without whom, as they say in the Oscars, none of this would have been possible.

Nothing But the Truth (2008) opens with a journalist, Rachel Armstrong (Kate Beckinsale) pitching what could be the scoop of the year to her editorial team. Following an assassination attempt on the president of the US, intelligence reported that Venezuela were responsible and with the usual restraint of western superpowers, the US launched a retaliatory air strike, causing repercussions around the globe. Things are not always as they appear, and Armstrong has evidence that there was strong evidence from a CIA agent, Erica Van Doren (Vera Farmiga) that the Venezuelans weren’t in fact involved. Worse still, it may have been ignored for political or jingoistic purposes. This is a story that could be the next Watergate and Armstrong wants to blow it open, and maybe collect a Pulitzer prize into the bargain. There are complications, however – aren’t there always?

Rachel has her sources but is not required to disclose them under state law. This point would be entirely moot, except for the small matter of the story blowing an embarrassing hole in the government’s PR – a consequence that will come back to haunt Rachel, Erica and many of the people they hold dear. Trouble pretty soon comes knocking at the two ladies’ doors. Not least because their children go to the same school, putting Van Doren’s integrity as an agent in jeopardy. The name of this trouble is Special State Prosecutor, Patton Dubois (Matt Dillon). The newspaper Rachel works for knows the reputation of the special prosecutors and hires the talents of the best representation money can buy, in the form of Albert Burnside (Alan Alda). The courtroom and political drama that plays out form here is a joy to watch, albeit in a voyeuristic and helpless fashion. No spoilers here, you’ll really have to go see it. Suffice to say, it’s based on a true story, so if your nerves are jangling by the end – as they should be – the cast will have done their job well.

You’d think that with Dillon and Alda as the (alpha) male leads, the little ladies would be pushed out and play second fiddle, in true Hollywood style. How wrong you’d be. Alda is superb as a genial older lawyer who’s obviously still kept his legal chops and Dillon is great as the snide agent playing both good and bad cop simultaneously. You’ll despise him, really you will. However, the female leads act them out of the ring. Beckinsale manages to be sassy, hard and a vulnerable family woman by turns and pretty much steals the show. Farmiga shows equal amounts of strength and vulnerability as she fights not only the press but her spymasters as well. This is all about the women and works extremely well. As an aside, the weakest male role by far was David Schwimmer as Rachel’s husband. Every scene he’s in, he brings down by being incapable of not being Ross from Friends. A shame, and for me one of the only low points of a wonderfully told tale.

No SFX, no scenery and no car chases, just dialogue, direction and some great performances. As I mentioned, Lurie obviously knows his way around a film set, and I doubt his years as a journalist did him any harm. He writes and directs with fluidity and excellent continuity, never letting the pace go slack. As legal dramas go, they can get a bit tired and flabby in the middle, only to pull out the big guns in the end. Nothing But the Truth sets a lively pace and maintains throughout, leading to a finale that will leave you sickened. Even though you may have second-guessed it.

108 mins.

DVD Movie Review: Repulsion (1965)

RepulsionBeautiful madness

I’ve never read John Gray‘s Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, and I probably never will, but watching Roman Polanski‘s haunting Repulsion (1965), I imagine some of the spirit of that book was invoked thirty years before its time. Polanski’s first feature in the English language, after his Polish debut Knife in the Water (1962), is set against the backdrop of swinging 60s London, in which society was emerging from the austerity and pre-war values of the day into a more rebellious and racier culture.

The story centres on an awkward young Belgian girl named Carole, played brilliantly by a stunningly beautiful Catherine Deneuve, who lives with her sister Helene (Yvonne Furneaux) and works in a beauty salon. She encounters chauvinistic men who ogle her and are after “a bit of the other”. She is pursued by a zealous admirer named Colin (John Fraser) to whom she pays scant interest. When Helene and her boyfriend leave her alone to to go on holiday, her repulsion with men and consequent isolation propel her into an insular world whereby her life and psyche literally and figuratively crack up.

The opening credit sequence is evocative of Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958), with its close-up of a flickering eye, perhaps even the Psycho (1960) shower scene as well. Polanski is free from any Hollywood shackles of the pre-modern era which enabled him to add a European sensibility for added shock. Chico Hamilton provides a foreboding score, through ambient tones, atmospheric noises and sound effects. The film moves at a pace that will not be to everybody’s liking, but Polanski is simply happy to build the tension. Some may also describe it as a genre film, either a horror or a thriller, but I think that is incidental. It is a detailed psychological profile of a mental breakdown, with thrilling and horrific moments. It is a great film – just ask Darren Aronofsky.

Carole’s behaviour is very child like throughout. She observes Nuns playing outside here window. Maybe she just wants a simple life, free from from the pressures of the modern sex-obsessed world. Deneuve says little by way of actual dialogue but the detail is in her body language. She constantly bites her nails, for which she is rebuked by her employer, and wipes her face as if she is cleansing herself of germs. It’s as if she has an undiagnosed obsessive compulsive disorder, but I am no psychiatrist. She has a constant look of nervousness and anxiety, while always fidgeting. We gradually learn that she is very fearful of men, and cannot stand to be touched by them. In one scene, she shows no interest in being kissed by Colin, and when she does relent, she has a look of horror before abruptly departing and washing her face. She cannot even tolerate Helene’s boyfriend placing his toiletries in her glass. She tries to escape the sound of sex from her sister’s room next door at night. She is not going to open herself up to a man.

Carole’s lack of expressiveness is communicated by other characters who express opinions about her. Her sister, with whom she has a fractious relationship, accuses her of sulking amongst other things. She barely argues back like a young child who almost entirely depends upon her sibling due to a strong sense of sisterly love. The boyfriend refers to her as ‘Cinderella’ and ‘strung up’, a clear reference to her frigid and solitary nature.

It is clear that Carole is extremely sensitive and cannot cope on her own. She doesn’t appear to have many female friends. She listens to the advice of patrons at the salon, who claim that men are all the same and only want one thing, while a female colleague with whom she seems to have some rapport with is equally cynical. There is a moment of light comic relief as tears over men turn into laughter when a shared love of Charlie Chaplin is discovered. It is a rare moment of openness from the central protagonist, in which her guard is dropped. Her performance at work declines from this point onwards.

>Carole’s relationship with Colin is distant at best. They seem to be on too completely different wavelengths, with the male overly keen and the female totally indifferent. Colin does not conform to a stereotypical bloke, he genuinely cares and has a deep affection for Carole, so much so that he defends his love in front of his mates, who spout anti-women cliches in order to make him forget her, before taking his ardour to an extreme level. Colin directly penetrates her frosty exterior and pays a heavy price. Maybe she just didn’t want to be helped, but what you want and what you need are entirely distinct. The other key relationship Carole has is with herself.

The film changes when she is left alone and her world begins to fall apart. She cuts herself off and barricades herself in. Her imagination runs wild. Things are seen and heard. There are scenes of sexual violence which perhaps hark back to past events. We do not know precisely what her troubles are or what is in her head but she is definitely dazed. Walls begin to crack, an eerie prophecy fulfilled after an earlier shot of her sitting on a bench looking over cracks in the pavement. We enter into a world where reality and fantasy are inextricably intertwined.

There is a scene reminiscent of Jean Cocteau’s La Belle Et La Bete (1946) where Carole is confronted in a hallway by hands which emerge from the walls and grope her seductively with non-fairytale creepiness. Her actions become very sinister, but she is fending off danger from that which she fears. Polanski creates a frightening sense of agoraphobia. When Carole’s nightmare reaches its conclusion, the situation is handled with sensitivity. The film ends on an ambiguous note. We do not know her past, but perhaps she has been this way for a long time?

Ultimately, I believe that Repulsion is a film about two distinct species who do not understand each other. Of course, I do not buy fully into the idea that men and women are in reality that different from each other, we are are individuals after all with our own idiosyncratic charms. Nevertheless, after everyone has had their say, men and women do have related stereotypes, and an unsettling adversarial battle of the sexes ensues. No wonder Carole is confused.

105 mins.

Cinema Movie Review: Elysium (2013)

Matt-Damon-in-Elysium-2013-Movie-ImageHazardous material

In director Neill Blomkamp’s follow-up to the ridiculously fantastic District 9 (2009), Elysium (2013), he has created a convincingly surreal world. In the not so distant future, the rich and powerful residents from Earth have created a space station in orbit (called Elysium) while the rest of the world’s population remains on a resource-depleted Earth. Elysium is a fantasy land – it has no crime, no poverty, no problems. All residents are completely healthy due to machines that rid them of disease and age spots. Meanwhile, back on Earth, everyone is sick or dying – imagine Disney’s Wall-E (2008), mashed-up with District 9.

Max (Matt Damon) is an ex-felon trying lead a straight life even though the current establishment on earth takes advantage of people in his situation. Max has a manufacturing job on Earth assembling the robots that police Elysium and Earth. After a mishap at work exposes him to life threatening radiation, Max is likely going to die in the next few days. With the help of some classified information, an underground crime boss, and a childhood friend, Max is intent on reaching Elysium.

Now, let me stop here for a second. Elysium serves as a fine summer blockbuster. There are some demi-original ideas. There are even some enjoyable action scenes. But once the story tries to build a plot and rely on your vested interest in the characters, this summer blockbuster loses its wheels.

Elysium’s only strengths are captured during the action sequences on earth. With precise direction and editing, the battles between robots, humans, and Elysium’s thugs are always entertaining. Also, the worlds on Elysium and Earth created by Blomkamp may be some of the best images ever for a sci-fi film. However, there are several issues outside of the aesthetics. First, the villains needed to be given more of a story. Jodie Foster, who reminds me of a female Dick Cheney in this role, serves as an awkward antagonist whose accent during the film may be up for a 2013 Leonardo DiCaprio Award for worst linguistic failure in a film. But then we never understood her motivation, which caused inconsistency in her actions. Also, there are far too many holes in the storyline that left me questioning whether the director ever stopped and re-read his story. I would ruin some of the more fun twists in the story if I go on, so I won’t go into further detail.

Elysium doesn’t provide the original punch that made District 9 so unique. The action scenes and the worlds created are some of the best ever I’ve ever seen on screen, but the characters never establish their footing, due to space-station sized holes in the story. If you see this film, drink some bourbon, stick a crayon all the way up your nose, sniff some glue – and then enjoy.

109 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: Kapringen (A Hijacking) (2012)

hero_a-hijackingDanish delight

Peter Pan isn’t the only person needing to be wary of pirates. Tobias Lindholm directs Kapringen (A Hijacking) (2012), which is about a crew aboard a Danish transport ship as they are hijacked by a group of rowdy, desperate Somali pirates. It is now up to the ship’s cook, a Somali translator, and the CEO to figure out a monetary compromise before the pirates’ frustrations descend into violence.

A Hijacking (2012) captures a different aspect of a ship siege. There are no shots fired. The film primarily focuses on the business aspect of negotiations. As an audience, we are introduced to the key figures of a hostage situation that would normally remain behind the scenes. The corporation’s CEO, Peter C. Ludvigsen (Søren Malling), is used to negotiating with millions of dollars on the line. It’s in his make-up. Emotions are left outside the negotiating room and his cool, calm demeanour is never breached. Now, given the opportunity, Peter takes on the task of the negotiating with the pirates even though outside Somali consultants highly recommend someone externally be responsible. It is Peter’s crew and, therefore, it is his responsibility.

The protagonist for the film is the cook, Mikkel Hartmann (Pilou Asbæk). Mikkel is the type of guy you’d want on your ship. He is easy-going, fun loving and wears his emotions on his sleeves. Whether it’s speaking to his wife and daughter over the phone or keeping a happy environment on board the ship, Mikkel’s spirit keeps the boat afloat.

As the film shifts from introducing the ship’s crew to the corporation’s board members, we see Peter go from a structured negotiation with Japanese customers to an utmost unstructured negotiation with the pirates. The film never shows a shot fired under the hijacking. In fact, there never was a hijacking, just a change in scenario for Peter’s negotiations.

A negotiator for the Somali pirates, Omar (Abdihakin Asgar), is the only pirate who speaks English and throughout the siege adamantly denies any wrongdoing and states he isn’t ‘one of them’. Omar is just there to do his job. He is the connection between the ship’s crew, which is mysteriously down to three members, and the boardroom. Just like the crew, he’s responsible for capturing, he too desperately wants to get home to his wife and kids.

Overall, the film makes you feel as if you are stuck on a ship — or in a boardroom — for days on end, hopelessly trying to reach an agreement. In part, this is due to the realistic conversations continuously occurring throughout the film. To portray the most realistic phone conversations, the director made the phone calls real-time with Peter in Denmark and Omar in Somalia. The sporadic conversations between the two with the phone’s static and awkward shouting are real conversations with actors trying to deliver their lines over one another. The effect worked.

At first, A Hijacking may not be the film you’ve expected when you hear about pirates and hostages. However, the minimalist approach and focus on the human aspect of negotiating makes it a delight.

103 mins. In Danish, Swedish, English, Japanese and Somali.