A selection of my Film Reviews
THE HOST (2013)
Directed by Andrew Niccol
Oscar-nominated New Zealander Andrew Niccol has had a some-what varied film career, with critical successes like Gattaca (1997), his directorial debut and The Truman Show (1998) for which he was nominated for best Original Screenplay at the 71st Academy awards to the mixed received but commercial successful, (S1mone (2002), Lord of War (2005) and the ambitious dystopian science fiction In Time (2011). With his new film, adapted from Stephenie Meyer's novel of the same name, Niccol has assuredly cemented his place as indisputably, the director of perhaps the most atrocious and abominable film of 2013 so far. With a dull, implausible and incoherent script, weak performances from his central cast with the exception of Eighteen year old lead, Saoirse Ronan, several moments of unintentional hilarity - The Host is 125 minutes of mind and soul-destroying anguish and unimaginable torment.
The film follows Melanie, played by Ronan who will risk everything to protect the people she cares most about when an unseen enemy threatens mankind by taking over their bodies and erasing their memories, in order to fully comprehend how absurd the concept of the film is, I will briefly summarise the central narrative - - In the near future, Earth has been conquered by a parasitic alien race known as The Souls, who implant themselves into human bodies. Melanie is a member of the human resistance who gets captured when she tries to protect her younger brother, Jamie, played by Chandler Canterbury - she is subsequently implanted with a Soul, called Wanderer, with the aliens planning to use Melanie' s memories to find the other members of the resistance - as Wanderer explores Melanie' s memories, she finds out about Melanie's lover, Jared played by Max Irons and thus, escapes to the desert to find the resistant camp - On finding the camp, Wanderer falls for another human, Ian, played by Jake Abel. The film is quite simply a preposterously mediocre and overtly sentimental teen drama with the quite comical facade of science fiction used to lure serious film-goers into thinking that it might be a meaningful, reflective and thought-provoking science fiction drama.
With In Time and Gattaca, two very interesting and compelling science fiction films, I had reserved some hope for Niccol's latest effort in the genre, but the film is just painfully unfathomable, frustratingly absurd and farcical to the point that you are sat in the cinema laughing at scenes that were not intended to be comical. Whilst Meyer's novel might have translated well on the page, it does not visually translate on screen - The film is a sappy and mushy slush of narrative cheese - filled with copious and random declarations of love, nonsensical love triangles, innumerable and impromptu kissing in the rain and and a ludicrous ending. The only positive aspect of the film is Ronan's performance, her talent gleams through the gloomy bleakness of the film. Undoubtedly underwhelming and instantly forgettable, The Host is a film that should be avoided at all cost.
Directed by: Park Chan-Wook
Wentworth Miller, the screenwriter of Stoker has described this film as a "horror film, a family drama and a psychological thriller" - a dense juxtaposition of different genres, consistently riddled with mystery and ambiguity, brilliantly casted with stirring performances from its three
principal players: Matthew Goode, Nicole Kidman and Mia Wasikowska, masterfully scored and edited, beautifully shot by Park Chung-hoon Chung and directed with evident artistry and veracity by the acclaimed Park Chan-wook, making his English-Language debut. Stoker is a puzzling enigma, although narratively flawed and frustratingly cryptic and enigmatic in its presentation of its themes and characters, Stoker is equally a dazzling and entrancing piece of work that is visually enchanting and mesmeric from the very first frame to the last. The film follows India (played by Wasikowska) whose father is killed in a horrific motor accident, her enigmatic Uncle Charlie (played by Goode), who she never knew existed, comes to live with her and her unstable mother (played by Kidman). She comes to suspect this mysterious, charming man has ulterior motives and becomes increasingly infatuated with him.
The film's ambiguity is quite evident from the very onset, we are abruptly thrust into the world of the three central characters without any clear indication of who they are, what drives and motivates them, all that is clear is India's father has died and the family are mourning his loss, especially India who had a very close relationship with him. We are then swiftly introduced to India's long-lost uncle who she never knew existed, Goode's character is consciously enigmatic, devilishly charming and inconspicuous. India and her mother are drawn to him and he is equally drawn to them, the film continues in this abstruse narrative vein for seventy minutes until the backstory is finally unearthed: India's uncle has always been fascinated and obsessed with her ever since she was a little girl, thus, explaining his sudden appearance. However, this narrative conclusion is improbable as it undoubtedly poses the significant and apparent question, why is he fascinated with her although he has never met her? And the film makes it clear that their paths have never crossed.
Thus, I came to this unambiguous conclusion; the plot is a labyrinth mesh of confusion and cluttered frailty, it is quite simply hard to comprehend - it is mystical and confounding, perhaps this was a conscious decision by the film-makers? To induce constant questioning by the viewer? Either way, this made the film quite difficult to completely immerse myself into. Praise, however, must be given to Chan-Wook for the visual and technical elements of the film, he is an incredibly proficient visual film-maker as he utilises very well crafted and constructed shots, masterful framings and compositions. Chan-Wook visually immerses the audience into the overtly prodigious and mysterious world of the characters, thus, making this cinematic experience a feast for the eyes and imagination. Chan-Wook's much anticipated English Language debut is undoubtedly worth a watch, despite an indubitably flawed plot, it is still a fascinating and visually absorbing piece of cinema that will seize the imagination and transport the audience into an unfathomable and extraordinary cinematic reality.
Directed by Nicholas Jarecki
When Twenty-five year old New York University graduate Nicholas Jarecki released his first feature film The Outsiders in 2005, the generally well received documentary about the making of James Toback's underwhelming film "When Will I Be Loved, not many people regarded him as a future film-making talent, with his second feature however, the thirty-three year old has undoubtedly established himself as arguably, one of the most exciting young directors working in cinema today. Arbitrage is an absorbing interweave of brilliant and exceptional writing; the screenplay is engaging and conscientiously paced. This is further complimented by Jarecki’s strong direction, compelling performances from its central cast: Richard Gere in the lead as Robert Miller, Susan Sarandon as his wife, Brit Marling (who exploded unto our screens in 2011 as the young lead in the Sundance winning Another Earth) as Gere's daughter, Nate Parker as Jimmy Grant and finally Tim Roth (who is experiencing a resurgence in his film career) as Detective Bryer. Arbitrage is a very impressive piece of work - captivating and engrossing and intensely mesmerising from the very first frame to the last, Jarecki's sophomore effort is unequivocally, one of the cinematic gems of the year.
The story follows Robert Miller, a successful financial businessman with a loving wife and smart daughter who is ready to take over the family business, however, professional secrets involving illegal fraudulent activities start coming out at the same time Robert's personal secrets takes a turn for the worse and ultimately threaten to derail everything he has achieved.
The film is a brilliant portrait of a publicly successful and beloved individual's fall from grace; Gere's character is a smart, witty billionaire, philanthropist and humanitarian - the very first shot of the film, we see Miller giving an interview on how to become successful in business - as the film progresses however, his flawless public image is privately damaged with the revelation of harboured secrets that are so damaging, they sharply contradict the image of Miller we are introduced to at the beginning of the film. Although the plot might seem conventional and recycled - the film is by no means predictable - Jarecki astutely immerses the audience into Miller's world, as a result, we form a close relationship with him. The film is so masterfully constructed that the audience are assiduously submerged into Miller's thrilling plight to extricate his life and business in order to attain the financial affluence and personal familial fulfilment we see him luxuriating in at the beginning of the film. He is not presented to the audience as a villain or a hero - simply a man trying to protect his family - but at what price?
Gere gives a career performance as Miller, with a varied career including Terence Malick's Days of Heaven (1978), American Gigolo (1980), Pretty Woman (1990) and the musical Chicago (2002), this is undoubtedly one of the best performances of his career. He dominates and commands every frame he occupies, his talent and wealth of experience is evident as he guides and carries the audience throughout this engaging and magnetic drama. Praise also must be given to Sarandon, Parker and Marling as they all equally give powerful performances that undoubtedly make this film an absolute must-see. Thus, amidst the mind-numbing slush and drivel of recent films I have seen, Arbitrage is a breath-taking slab of hope that good films are still being made: brilliantly captivating and enrapturing - this is simply a film that must be seen.
JACK REACHER (2012)
Directed by Christopher McQuarrie
The name Tom Cruise is synonymous with many great films like A Few Good Men, Magnolia, Collateral and Eyes Wide Shut, this film, unfortunately, should not be included in this category. Immensely flawed, under-developed characters, uninspiring performances, a boring and sluggishly written script, doltish twists, clumsily directed, this adaptation of Lee Child's novel is undoubtedly one to miss. Written for the screen and directed by Christopher McQuarrie (Oscar Winning writer of Usual Suspects) and adapted from Lee Child's novel "One Shot", this film should never have been conceived - the recent disappointing film adaptation of Robert Patterson's fictional protagonist "Alex Cross" should have been a "money-saving" lesson to the film's producers that some novels, unfortunately do not translate well on the big screen and Jack Reacher is a prime example of that.
The film begins promisingly, the opening ten minutes is tense, dramatic and captivating, this however does not last, the introduction of the titular character brings a resounding and an emphatic end to the film's auspicious start. There are many problems with the film: the script is incredibly flawed, badly written and just simply boring, its very obvious and conspicuous attempt to be clever and interesting is its ultimate downfall, the film sets up these supposedly intriguing twists and narrative turns that just ends up as deflated narrative debacles, devoid of any kind of affinity and involvement with the audience.
My primary issue with the film is the fact that it eminently sets up Cruise's character as this abstruse, mysterious and covert under-taker who makes his own rules and laws - all the back-story presentation of his character is simply not justified when we are indeed introduced to Jack Reacher. He is not mysterious, abstruse or covert, he is fifty year old actor Tom Cruise, star of The Mission impossible series, stagily beating up twenty year old guys with the strangest of ease and comfort. Tom Cruise is a good actor but he should not have been attached to this film series, he will probably be fifty-three when the sequel hits cinemas. This perhaps might not have made the slightest of difference, but the part should have been offered to a much younger actor who would have brought a much-starved freshness to the film. I will end with a line from the film that probably was not intended to make me chuckle, but it did nonetheless. In the scene, Reacher confronts the Villain in the film, known as Zec "the prisoner" because he served much of his life in the infamous Soviet Gulags.
JACK REACHER: You'll be going to prison for a long time.
ZEC "the prisoner": (He laughs) American prison is like a retirement home to me.
LIFE OF PI (2012)
Directed by Ang Lee
In 2000, a Taiwanese-born, American director broke into the international stage with the Martial Arts epic, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, since then however, he has had a very mixed career filled with monumental failures like Hulk and cult hits like Brokeback Mountain. Based on the Man Booker Prize winning book by Yann Martel and adapted for the screen by David Magee, Life of Pi is an incredibly immersive and breathtaking visual cinematic experience. The film is about a 16 year old boy, (played by unknown indian actor Suraj Sharma, making his film debut), named Piscine Molitor "Pi" Patel who suffers a shipwreck and is stranded in the Pacific Ocean on a lifeboat with a Bengal Tiger named Richard Parker.
The film's running time is 127mins, but it is quite evident that Lee’s Director’s cut was probably much longer and he had to cut it down to its current time for the studio/producers. During the opening thirty minutes, Lee establishes the main character's childhood and upbringing; his simple and sheltered life in rural India, his discovery of God and his practice of different religions - these opening sequences ultimately shape the film as it establishes and inculcates faith, God and spirituality as important elements and components of the film. However, it is quite apparent that Lee tries to satiate too much content in the opening thirty minutes, so much that you lose the kind of involvement and affinity you could have had with Pi if Lee had more time to establish his childhood and early life.
The story really takes shape and momentum halfway through the film where Pi is stranded with the Bengal Tiger, interestingly named, Richard Parker. The only word that can be used to describe these sequences is “Breath-taking”. Lee unsuspectingly weaves between fantasy and reality, exploring Pi's relationship with the Tiger, his stirring will to survive and his discovery of an extraordinary world that is visually breathtaking, wondrous and captivating. The lead, Sharma is incredible, his performance is undoubtedly one of the film highlights as he guides the audience throughout this fantastical tale. Amidst all the evident CGI and special effects, is a very simple and moving human story about a boy and a Tiger - (Yes, its literally about that). Lee is undoubtedly a visionary director, it has been said on numerous occasions that Yann Martel's masterpiece could not be adapted into a film, Lee has clearly subverted that notion, not only has he presented a truly breath-taking tale of hope, survival and life, but he has managed to visually realise a truly magnificent piece of literature.
Yes, I know there are some of you that despise 3D, but I think sometimes you have to make an exception for a film like this - The 3D is unnecessary for the first thirty minutes and the last twenty minutes, but the middle section needs to be seen in 3D to fully appreciate and comprehend Lee's incredible vision. Beautiful, breath-taking and magical.
Directed by Daniel Kokotajlo
The debut feature of Daniel Kokotajlo is a profound and towering cinematic achievement. I first heard about it when it played at the Toronto Film Festival in 2017, I have been anxiously waiting to see it since, thankfully, it did not disappoint.
The Manchester-set drama follows a mother who finds herself challenged when changing circumstances surrounding her two daughters don’t align with her religious belief. Kokotajlo has created a film thats incredibly truthful and wholly authentic, the film unravels subtly, slowly and beautifully - every frame, scene and sequence utilised effectively to tell a story that’s nuanced, complex and quietly devastating. The central performances, cinematography and direction is bold, multi-layered and absolutely entrancing - without a doubt, this is a film I know will stay with me for a very long time. If you have to see a film in the cinema, please let it be Apostasy, it’s a powerful meditation on faith, love and sacrifice. An absolute must-see.
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