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Archive for the category “Film Reviews”

CHRONICLE (2012)

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Since The Blair Witch Project in 1999, ‘found footage’ films have been proved to work very well with horror: they create efficient suspense, effortlessly hide what should be kept unseen and places the audience directly in the shoes of the terrified protagonist/owner of the camera. Now, studios are experimenting with other genres such as fantasy/science-fiction (Chronicle) and comedy (Project X).

Chronicle uses the style quite well: the camera is there to make us deeply identify with Andrew (Dane DeHaan) – a shy and slightly anti-social boy with family problems – as he finds a way to finally express his anger at the world. He achieves this through telekinesis, an ability that he develops with two fellow high school students after venturing into a mysterious hole. Andrew’s progressive mastering of the (super)power leads to an interesting move from a fun teenage comedy to a dark drama.

The lack of camera coverage that comes with found footage films is, here, resourcefully handled through a montage of images from different sources (other cameras, iPhones, news footage…). Moreover, the narrative allowed for nice crane shots thanks to Andrew’s use of telekinesis. In this way, that is on a technical level, Chronicle was brilliantly done. The special effects looked very realistic and the film generally proved to be very crafty and original.

However, narratively, something was missing. The characters were realistic, but somehow not always believable. The story was appealing but not moving or particularly thought-provoking. Maybe this comes from a slight lack of maturity on the part of a young, yet otherwise promising set of filmmakers, or maybe Chronicle should have been a TV series rather than an 84 minute-long film. This would have allowed more time for character development; writers could have expanded on deeper themes and personal struggles; and the narrative wouldn’t have featured what was probably the quickest super-villain death in history.

Furthermore, it often felt like the filmmakers were trying slightly too hard to put cameras in places that would not normally have been caught on film. There was also a plot hole that could have been better handled: if the power-giving hole was being surveilled by the authorities, surely, people other than the three teenagers (policemen, scientists or government officials) should have developed superpowers, or at least know about them…

In the end, Chronicle is definitely an original and entertaining film that provide a nice twist on superhero stories. It just lacks a certain depth in its story and characterization that would render it more memorable and suitable for multiple viewings.

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MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE (2011)

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Martha ‘Marcy May’ Marlene, also knows by cinema goers as (Martha Marley and Me, Marie Err…, That film on at 17:45 about the girl or Mmm… Maa?) is a disturbing and bewildering film. It follows the confusion of Martha (Elizabeth Olsen) after her escape from an abusive cult and it’s effect on her relationship with ‘normal’ people – her sister and brother in law.

The film maintains many levels of uncertainty throughout. Indeed, the scenes often mix time and space: within one take, Martha will have moved into a flashback or from a flashback into the present. Sometimes, it is made clear, sometimes, the audience (as well as Martha) are left in the dark as to where/when the scene is taking place. Moreover, the consequences of her escape remain ambiguous: is the cult actually pursuing her? How brainwashed is she? Is she having flashbacks or hallucinations or both?

As the film is shot from Martha’s point of view, she holds just as many answers as we do. Many ambiguous, social and existentialist questions are raised: is she more of a Martha (her birth name) or a Marcy May? Who is she happier as? Which fit in better in their respective society? Martha ‘Marcy May’ Marlene takes us deep into the mind of a cult escapee, making us interrogate the social conventions and ideologies of both the cult and her bourgeois sister. Why would bathing naked in a lake be so offensive? Why does life need to evolve around a career?

Elizabeth Olsen’s brave performance makes the film. It could have been a plain and at times rather boring story, but her portrayal is so expressive and full of ambiguous meanings that one cares for her character. This gripping introspection takes us through many painfully disturbing scenes leading up to a haunting ending. John Hawkes should also be mentioned, after Winter’s Bone, he reprises his role as a creepy, obscure character and he is really good at it.

Martha ‘Marcy May’ Marlene is not always easy to watch, but it is a beautiful and sensitive character-led film that will definitely stay with you for a  while.

WAR HORSE (2011)

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A story of friendship between a boy and a horse… It’s a little cheesy, yes. But unlike the sterile New Year’s Eve, this is good old fashioned melting cheese that actually complements the story. That is because is War Horse, there is truth and soul and Steven Spielberg makes it feel genuine. He makes us travel through a war that was unfair and unforgiving, a war where the gentle and innocent didn’t survive. This is shown through the most candid and unbiased eyes of all, those of a horse, Joey. He shows us that no matter what side one is on (English or German, army or civilian), the cruelty of the war affects everyone. In the end, love and friendship are the only redeeming values that remains, that give both people and horses their drive and save Joey in the end.

The characters of the story all feel slightly too one-dimensional but that is because they all serve one purpose and generally have limited screen time. However, they are so well drawn out and well acted that their fates are often heartbreaking.

The cinematography and mise-en-scène are sumptuous. They make the war scenes appear at times eery, overwhelming or terrifying in opposition to the generally peaceful village where Joey and Albert (Jeremy Irvine) become friends.

Occasional touches of humour lighten the film which, unlike the beginning of Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan (1998) is never shocking or explicitly violent. War Horse is simply a positive film that will be a pleasure to watch as you reflect on the value of humanity and how too much of it was wasted in war.

TAKE SHELTER (2011)

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It is unfortunate that such a thought provoking film as Take Shelter was given such a limited release (at least in the UK). It deserved a bigger audience and a more mainstream award recognition. The writing, direction and brilliant acting all work together to drive this heartbreaking production.

What would you do if , like Curtis (Michael Shannon), you felt schizophrenia getting hold of you? If you were having apocalyptic visions, picturing yourself and your family in danger? Whom or what would you protect them from? The thought of losing one’s mind is terrifying, so is the idea of dealing with it alone. But Curtis’ family is already dealing with enough problems. He cannot bear to trouble them with this new burden. Rather, he attempts to keep providing for them as he believes  a husband/father should. Even if it means falling into denial and building a shelter to protect them from his visions (rather than himself).

Take Shelter is about obsession, mainly the growing obsession of a father to protect and provide for his family as a mental illness/breakdown slowly takes hold of him. It is also about sticking together as a family in the toughest times. Michael Shannon is poignant as Curtis, the helpless yet introverted protagonist, and Jessica Chastain is also very moving as the loving wife doing everything she can to understand and help her husband.

The film may feel a bit slow at times as there is little drive to the story and a lot of Curtis sitting in the dark worrying and building a storm shelter. However, Take Shelter definitely works as a reflection of the distressing affliction that is mental illness, both on the families and on the sufferers themselves.

THE ARTIST (2011)

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A wonderfully original film that reminds us that there are many ways for films to express a story. Even without sound. This is something that seems to have been forgotten: I work in a cinema where a few people walked out of The Artist demanding a refund or a discount because whatever it is that was being projected (surely not a film!) was in black and white and… DU-DUN DUUUN! God almighty!… silent!

Be that as it may, if this specific film was not silent, it would not work. With sound throughout, the anxieties of George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) facing the inevitability of talkies would be flat and the ending would have no impact. Furthermore, some self-conscious uses of intertitles would have been unimaginable had the film been made in the silent era. In this way, the misleading effect of the “BANG!” intertitle is revealing of the film’s conscious play with it’s own lack of sound. This makes for a very modern film, as well as a classic homage to a rich era of filmmaking that has recently fallen into oblivion.

The story is simple, yet funny and, at times, heartbreaking. The performances are, similarly to the writing and direction, both modern and in keeping with the acting of the silent era.

Interestingly, The Artist feels like it should only be watched in the cinema: in a dark, silent setting that immerses us in the era, and as part of an audience to share laughter, silence and applause with – the real deal! When watching this film at home, one can only imagine that the aspect ratio will render the image too small, and the surrounding noises will become distracting, reducing the impact of the rare diegetic sound – in the cinema, the existence of sound is almost forgotten, therefore, noisy occurrences are just as shocking to us as they are to George Valentin.

It seems unlikely that The Artist will herald a new cycle of silent films: as the numbers have shown, it is not as popular a style as 3D or ‘found footage’… However, it will hopefully remind audiences and filmmakers alike, that the most modern way is not the only way when making a movie. As technology advances, the stories and ways to tell them remain timeless. There is just a widening selection of means available to express creativity that should be embraced in all its scope.

NEW YEAR’S EVE (2011)

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Oh dear, does it get more cheesy than that? You may think, well cheese never hurt anybody, especially during the holidays. You’d be right, the film is completely and utterly harmless, but it also kind of feels a bit patronising. The lack of soul and substance in this film is palpable. Samuel Johnson wrote that “the value of every story depends on it being true”. I don’t think Gary Marshall, the cast or the considerable amount of sponsors this film had believed there was any worldly truth in this story.

The cast features anyone that, one can guess, was available to make easy money: from multi-Academy award winners (Robert DeNiro and Hilary Swank) to pop stars (Ludacris and Jon Bon Jovi). However, none of them provide a good performance. Maybe because they couldn’t be bothered considering they were being payed a huge sum of money regardless, maybe because the corny writing didn’t allow them to, maybe because no one cared if they were good as long as they their names were printed at the top of the bill. In fact, the filmmakers know that we are watching fake, one dimensional characters. They just want us to remember that they are played by nice, fun-loving and playful celebrities, and to remind us of that: they added bloopers! – Arguably the best part of the movie… Certainly better than Hilary Swank’s cringeworthy speech on the real meaning of New Years Eve.

The whole movie, conveniently set for the most part in Time Square, is one big advertising billboard that audiences are invited to pay for. Few frames of New Years Eve don’t contain product or billboard placement. The cast were a bunch of endorsers, there only to encourage viewers to consume more during New Year’s Eve (one should not stop once Christmas is over!) and maybe also visit New York (cause New Year’s Eve is obviously ruined if one does not see the ball drop!) – and you know what, it probably worked on some level, because that year I went to New York, saw the darn ball and yeah I felt proud!

Picture to prove it? why certainly, and with more billboards!:

Unfortunately, for as long as there will be audiences for celebrities (not actors), there will be an audience for films like this one, so after Love Actually, Valentine’s Day and New Year’s Eve, we can probably look forward to Easter Monday, Mother’s Day and Secretary’s Day. Because in the end, isn’t every Hallmark holiday about forgetting all your troubles and being with your loved ones? (No, not consuming… Shut up at the back!)

HUGO (2011)

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Hugo does not compare to Martin Scorsese’s previous films, cannot really be considered better or worse. It simply exists on a different level of mood, realism, characterisation and intention. It is a children’s story presented with the innocence of a child. It is an ode to the art of filmmaking and works to raise awareness for the work Scorsese does in film preservation.

Similarly to Midnight in Paris, Hugo contains elements of biopic in what is otherwise a fiction film. In this way, Scorsese introduces young audiences to Georges Méliès, the man who brought magic to cinema. He conveys a love of films no longer feels present: people now go to the cinema to see the latest blockbuster, not because they care, but just because everyone else has seen it. I believe that this lack of interest in film as an art form is one of the major reasons why people don’t go to the movies anymore.

In Hugo, even 3D doesn’t feel like a gimmick for ticket sales (although it probably was for the studio). For once, it is used to genuinely drag us into the film, into the magically cinematic land that are the walls of the train station in which Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield) resides. Just like the little children we follow, 3D immerses us into the old Méliès films, and makes us lose ourselves in the overwhelming crowds of Parisian travellers.

The film does take a while to set up: for the first half, it was unclear where the narrative was going and what kind of an “adventure” Hugo and Isabelle were setting off on. However, this slow start turned out to be necessary in introducing a story that was filled with more heart than action, and an adventure that was more endearing than thrilling.

Of course, the quality of Scorsese’s filmmaking never disappoints, but in Hugo he revealed a brand new side of him that works just as well.

THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO (2011)

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…and David Fincher nailed it!

First of all, I’d like to point out that I do not consider this film to be a remake of the Swedish version, but rather another adaptation of the Millenium books. Both film had a different approach to a subject that worked in different ways. Having been quite surprised and disturbed by the book, I must say the Swedish version disappointed me. It wasn’t bold or edgy enough and although I thought Noomi Rapace’s performance was good, she did not portray the Lisbeth Salander I imagined. Not her fault for not knowing my expectations, I don’t blame her. I also felt that Michael Nyqvist lacked a fair amount of charisma as Mikael Blomkvist. I heard he is quite famous in Sweden, maybe a bit of extra-textual knowledge on my part would have helped… However, in my opinion, the Hollywood reinterpretation hit the nail on the head.

First of all, the rhythm of the film is takes you in from the start. The opening sequence sets the mood with a catchy and fitting industrial soundtrack and the film does not let go from there. Considering that The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo follows the story of two people researching stuff in books and archives and computers, it could have been pretty boring. But David Fincher made sure to place the key action scenes in the right places, making for a very entertaining ride.

Furthermore, the focus is not solely on the action, but also on deep characterisation. Granted the relationship between Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) and Erika (Robin Wright) could have been more developed. However, his distant relationship with his daughter and Salander’s fight to repress feelings that have harmed her in the past, took part in outlining layered personalities and provided strong bases for future character developments.

One cannot mention the layered characters without looking at the actors. Indeed, Rooney Mara proved that she is an extremely brave and talented actress in her portrayal of Salander. She demonstrated a strong presence on screen, often finding a balance between restrained and extreme performances. In addition, Daniel Craig brought all the necessary amount of charisma and discreet humour to Blomkvist (and even a little extra chunk that made him a hell of a lot more believable as a real person!).

Finally, great cinematography worked to make the whole film (and yes, even the most horrific scenes) a pleasure to watch. The writing and direction were masterful and created disturbing suspense. Two scenes in particular stand out: the set up of a particularly brutal rape scene where the camera leaves the room tricking us into thinking that no, we will not be forced to watch any rape today; and the tense conversation between Blomkvist and the killer before he willingly follows him into a torture den.

In The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Fincher builds up an atmosphere and suspense that should keep you hooked and builds anticipation for the two sequels to come.

MIDNIGHT IN PARIS (2011)

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Midnight in Paris is one of those ‘nice’ films that make one forget about the real world, forget that Paris is an often smelly, crowded and stressful capital city, forget that life is too complicated, and forget that time travel is not really possible (even when drunk). It makes you walk out of the cinema with a smile on your face, having been reminded what films are all about: making our daily fantasies a reality.

Featuring typical characteristics of a Woody Allen film, from the anxieties of the ‘Woody Allen character’ (Owen Wilson) to the re-evaluation of socially established recipes for love and happiness, Midnight in Paris feels like a strange hybrid of Allen’s previous work. It has silly moments, philosophical moments, romantic moments and surrealist moments. However, one doesn’t need to like the director to enjoy this film. Ultimately, it stands on its own.

The cinematography is simple yet beautiful throughout. The soundtrack is a refreshing selection of oldies, both French and American. The cast has great chemistry and the performances were alternatively original, funny and sensitive. Mentionning Corey Stoll in particular seems necessary, he stole the show with his performance as an eccentric Ernest Hemingway. Additionally, Adrien Brody was very surprising and funny as Salvador Dalí, but his appearance felt a bit too much like an attention seeking cameo and he reiterated a certain Rhinoceros joke once too many, making it lose its impact. Owen Wilson’s Gil (or ‘Woody Allen character’) is spot on,whether you like the actor or not, he is very endearing as an idealist riddled with anxieties and overwhelmed by the situation he finds himself in.

The artists of Paris’ Lost Generation are a great ensemble. Unfortunately, these personalities are not represented enough in films. Gertrude Stein, Picasso and the Fitzgeralds all had fascinating lives and inspired a great number of future artists. It is a shame that so few young spectators understood what generation and community the film was referring to. To quote Alan Rickman’s Metatron in Dogma: “You people. If there isn’t a movie about it, it’s not worth knowing, is it?”. So, good on Woody Allen for giving these characters such an original and intriguing portrayal that will hopefully motivate audiences to hop onto Wikipedia after watching the film.

The only major problem worth noting about Midnight in Paris, is how many times the theme of the story is shoved down the spectator’s throat. By the end of the film, you will have been told countless times that actually, it’s all very well to fantasize about the past, but it’s probably better to stop and enjoy the present sometimes – or as pretentious intellectual Paul (Michael Sheen) puts it “nostalgia is denial” – or as Gil realises “the present is a little unsatisfying because life’s a little unsatisfying”. Get it? If not watch the movie, they’ll repeat it a few more times.

Despite this minor flaw, all in all the movie is a lovely escape, well written and well acted. It is an enjoyable experience, full of optimism that also happens to show Paris in a beautiful light.

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