Review – Dunkirk (12a) [2017]

Star Rating: 4/5

Director:

  • Christopher Nolan – Memento, Insomnia, The Prestige, Inception, The Dark Knight I-III, Interstellar

Cast:

  • Fionn Whitehead – The Children Act, Caravan
  • Aneurin Bernard – The Facility, The White Queen, War & Peace, Interlude In Prague, Dead In A Week
  • Barry Keoghan – Love/Hate, ‘71, Trespass Against Us, Black 47
  • Mark Rylance – Richard II, The Other Boleyn Girl, Wolf Hall, Bridge of Spies, The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara
  • Tom Hardy – Inception, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, WarriorThis Means WarThe Dark Knight Rises, The Drop, The Revenant, Venom
  • Tom Glynn-Carney – The Last Post
  • Jack Lowden – ‘71, War & Peace, A United Kingdom, Denial, Mary Queen of Scots
  • Brian Vernel – Offender, The Last Kingdom, Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens
  • Kenneth Branagh – Wild Wild West, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Valkyrie, My Week With Marilyn, Murder On The Orient Express
  • Cillian Murphy – Girl With A Pearl Earring, The Dark Knight I-III, Inception, Transcendence, The Delinquent Season
  • Harry Styles – One Direction: This Is Us

Music Composer:

When one looks at the generation that survived World War II (WWII), one can only admire the heroism and sacrifice they demonstrated. It was an extraordinary generation, of the like we may never see again. Christopher Nolan’s latest film, Dunkirk, underlines their astonishing character.

Tommy (Fionn Whitehead), on the beach at Dunkirk, praying that a German bomb does not land on him.

Dunkirk is about the miracle evacuation of over 300,000 Allied soldiers over nine days between May and June 1940 as the Nazis blitzkriegged their way through Holland, Belgium and into France. The film focusses, predominantly, on three people: Tommy (Fionn Whitehead), a British soldier, on the beaches of Dunkirk doing his utmost to get on a boat to sail back to Britain; Mr Dawson (Mark Rylance), a resident of Dorset, who answers the Home Guard’s call for anyone with a fishing boat or a yacht to brave their way to Dunkirk to help bring soldiers home; and Farrier (Tom Hardy), a fighter pilot who shoots down German planes over the Channel. It is through these characters that we gain an understanding of what it was like to be at Dunkirk at the time.

Christopher Nolan recreates the situation in and around Dunkirk brilliantly. 300,000 Allied men are stuck on the beaches of north-east France with no way of getting home. It is through Tom Hardy’s and Mark Rylance’s characters that we appreciate the heroism that ordinary folk showed. Statistically, one in three RAF planes were shot down by the Germans during WWII, yet Hardy’s character shows no fear and does his duty as if it were expected of him. Similarly, Rylance’s character knows full well that he (and his son) could be bombed or torpedoed by the Germans, yet he still gets on his little yacht and sails to France to save as many soldiers as he can. It is inspiring to watch. (Compare them to people today, where a keyboard warrior would most likely tweet #saveourboys and believe he/she has done their bit for the war effort, and we realise how far we have fallen in a mere two or three generations.)

Farrier (Tom Hardy), seemingly representing the token force of the Royal Air Force (RAF) all on his own, doing his utmost to save the lives of Allied soldiers by shooting down German planes.

Just as Nolan captures the heroism of the age expertly, so too does he capture the tension of the situation at Dunkirk equally well. One’s muscles tauten as viewers grasp the magnitude of the difficulty the British government faced in trying to rescue 300,000 men in a very finite time (especially with German bombers flying overhead and the fear of a battle for the British Isles still to come). Compound it with yet another superb and gripping score from Hans Zimmer, and the film is unbearable to watch for the entirety of its 107-minute run time. From the rapidly increasing beat of a pulse; to the head-splitting screech of a German bomber; to the nerve-jangling play of the strings; to the ever loudening, conflicting musical verses, layering each other, the music induces the viewer with the intolerable anxiety, panic and terror that the Allied soldiers must have felt back then.

This is quite a feat for Nolan to achieve and it makes up for Dunkirk’s shortcomings: notably, the lack of context, the lack of character development, and the virtual lack of horror. First, by the end of the film, it is not apparent how or why 300,000-400,000 Allied soldiers ended up at Dunkirk in May 1940. Commander Bolton (Kenneth Branagh) would have been the perfect person to elucidate upon this, but he doesn’t.

Second, with the exception of Rylance’s remarkable character, the characters are not given a backstory and are under-developed. Consequently, viewers feel little for the characters (many of whom audiences won’t be able to name or tell apart). This is in stark contrast to other war films, such as Saving Private Ryan (SPR) and Platoon, in which character development is central to the plots.

Mr Dawson (Mark Rylance), sailing to Dunkirk on his yacht, despite all the risks involved.

Third, because Nolan (or the studio) chose to go for a mass market appeal, Dunkirk lacks the grittiness (again) of SPR and Platoon. As a result, one does not see the horrific wounds soldiers suffered in Dunkirk and this takes an element of authenticity away from the movie. By comparison, the opening sequence of SPR is authentic because it reveals the horrors of war. If Spielberg had failed to show the blood, the wounds and the screams as the Allies stormed the Normandy beaches, SPR would not have achieved the iconic status it has since achieved.

Over-all, Dunkirk is another excellent Christopher Nolan film. Yes, it lacks explanation about why the situation at Dunkirk arose; it lacks character depth; and it lacks visceral qualities by not showing audiences raw wounds. Nevertheless, Dunkirk gives viewers a genuine experience of what it was like to be at Dunkirk in May 1940 and illustrates the heroism that the (extra)ordinary people of Britain demonstrated to help evacuate the Allied soldiers. When one examines the courage of the people back then, as highlighted by Mark Rylance’s character in particular, one cannot help but be awed and overwhelmed by how great they were.

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Review – It Comes At Night (15) [2017]

Star Rating: 3/5

Director:

  • Trey Edward Shults – Krisha

Cast:

  • Joel Edgerton – Animal KingdomWarrior, Zero Dark Thirty, Exodus: Gods And KingThe Gift, Red Sparrow
  • Riley Keough – Magic Mike, Mad Max, We Don’t Belong Here, Welcome The Stranger
  • Christopher Abbott – Martha Marcy May Marlene, A Most Violent Year, Criminal Activities, Tyrel
  • Carmen Ejogo – The Purge: Anarchy, Selma, Alien: Covenant, Roman Israel, Esq.
  • Kelvin Harrison Jr. – The Birth Of A Nation, Mudbound, Assassination Nation
  • Griffin Robert Faulkner

Music Composer:

  • Brian McOmber – A Teacher, Krisha, Collective: Unconscious, The Last Shift

There are some films that are titled in such a way as to give viewers the wrong impression of the movie. Silence of the Lambs was about a serial killer and had merely a passing mention to its title; Heavenly Creatures was not about idyllic angels placed on Earth, but two psychopathic, pretty girls; and Batman v Superman was merely a headache-inducing, money-spinning ruse of a title to kick start the Justice League franchise. Similarly, It Comes At Night is mistitled and, consequently, misdirects its audience in a negative way.

Paul (Joel Edgerton) questioning Will (Christopher Abbott), who he has tied up to a tree and gagged, after Will broke into his house.

It Comes At Night is a film, set in an eerie forest in America. Disease/plague is rampant and Paul (Joel Edgerton), the militant patriarch of his family of three, will do whatever it takes to make sure his family do not become infected; even going so far as not to let anyone open the front door without his permission, to ensure that the disease does not come in.

But one day, a stranger called Will (Christopher Abbott) breaks into his house and begs for them to let him and his family enter. They have no other way of surviving the plague. Paul is suspicious, but lets them in. However, not long after Will and his family arrive, Paul’s son Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) finds the front door open. Who did it? Who has potentially let the disease into the house?

  It Comes At Night is a bad choice of title considering it is a film about (incurable) disease, the fear it brings, and the behaviour (paranoia) it manifests in people as a result. Nonetheless, disease does not just come at night; it can come during the day too. This is the first problem with the movie.

The second is that the film’s title does not epitomise the movie it wants to be. From the sound of it, one would think It Comes At Night is a paranormal horror film. There are a couple of jump scares, but not enough for the movie to be marketed as a horror film. Very soon, it becomes apparent that the tone of the movie is wrong for a horror film and that alone is enough to disappoint viewers (especially horror fans).

The door before the front door that must remain locked at all times, and only Paul has the key to it. Paul reckons it is the only way to keep out the disease…

If anything, It Comes At Night is a psychological drama. Through Will and his family, the film raises the fascinating moral conundrum that people faced in the Medieval times when the Bubonic Plague was rife: should people show compassion and humanity to others who need help, despite the risk that this could further spread the disease and kill members of one’s own family; or should people close their doors to strangers until the plague ends, despite this meaning many will die who could have been saved?

The film puts up a decent fist of conveying the conundrum. But there three problems with its execution: one is that not a lot happens, which makes for a dull watch; two, the movie is completely devoid of context and we are none-the-wiser by the end of the film as to what has happened to the world and how Paul’s and Will’s respective families have ended up in respective predicaments; and, three, Will does not come across as a trustworthy individual, which has the distortive effect of making viewers sympathies lean heavily toward Paul (and his suspicions/paranoia) over the needs of Will and his family.

The actors themselves are blameless for the way audiences see Paul and Will. Indeed, Joel Edgerton and Christopher Abbott are really good in their respective roles as two (very different types of) fathers doing their best to save their families. Interestingly, Director Trey Shults believes that the father-son relationship is a crucial element to It Comes At Night as he did not have a good relationship with his father growing up. What this means for Travis and Will’s son, Andrew (Griffin Robert Faulkner), is anyone’s guess; particularly Travis. Much is ambiguous about him and it would have been helpful if the film explored his personality in greater detail. But again Kelvin Harrison Jr. is blameless and does well with what he is given.

The two families accusing one another, bitterly, of opening the door after Travis finds it open.

Additionally, Brian McOmber’s score growls and helps the audience feel the claustrophobia of the situation. Indeed, it deserves for something to build up to a climax and actually happen (and at night too).

All-in-all, It Comes At Night is a disappointing film. It has a fine cast, an interesting premise, and an important conundrum at its core. For if a disease akin to the Medieval Bubonic Plague returned, mankind may well behave like Paul and Will do in the film. Nevertheless, the sense lingers that something is amiss with It Comes At Night. It is boring, devoid of tension, and incorrectly marketed as a horror film. Ultimately, this all stems from its ill-chosen title.

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Review – Churchill (PG) [2017]

Star Rating: 3.5/5

Director:

  • Jonathan Teplitzky – Better Than Sex, Burning Man, The Railway Man

Cast:

  • Brian Cox – Bourne I & II, Coriolanus, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Her, Strange But True
  • Miranda Richardson – Empire of the Sun, The Hours, Harry Potter IV & VII(i), Belle, The Happy Prince
  • John Slattery – Madmen, Iron Man II, The Adjustment Bureau, Spotlight, Captain America III
  • Richard Durden – The Bill, Trial & Retribution, Agora, The Awakening, Dickensian
  • Julian Wadham – The English Patient, Exorcist: The Beginning, The Iron Lady, The Happy Prince
  • Danny Webb – Alien III, Valkyrie, The Bill, Locke, Pegasus Bridge
  • James Purefoy – A Knight’s Tale, Rome, Ironclad, High-Rise, Interlude In Prague
  • Ella Purnell – Never Let Me Go, Maleficent, Kick-Ass II, Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children, UFO

Music Composer:

  • Lorne Balfe – Ironclad, Terminator Genesys, The Lego Batman Movie, Ghost In The Shell, Horse Soldiers

Winston Churchill, Prime Minister of Britain 1940-45 & 51-55, has been mythologised. “History will be kind to me if I write,” Winston once said. Well, he did write it: a six volume series about World War II after it concluded. Unsurprisingly, history has been very kind to him ever since and Churchill has gone down as a legendary war hero that would fit right into Ancient Greek mythology. But what was he actually like as a person? Director Jonathan Teplitzky gives us an answer, but not without issue.

Winston Churchill (Brian Cox), smoking a Churchill cigar, contemplating events of two decades past as he walks along the beach.

Churchill is a drama centred round Winston Churchill (Brian Cox) in the days leading up to D-Day (6th June 1944). The movie opens with Winston walking along a beach, remembering the failed Gallipoli campaign during World War I, when he was responsible for the death of more than 150,000 Allied soldiers. Winston is tormented by these memories; the loss of life weighs heavily on his shoulders. This causes him to obstruct Operation Overlord, the proposed invasion of Normandy, as he does not want another slaughter on the beaches.

Churchill makes for interesting viewing. The film casts Winston not as the myth we know, but as the human being he was. He still has the haughty sense of humour that went hand-in-hand with his self-conceit, the great oratory skills, and the bulldog hunch of a man on a mission, plus he chews/smokes enough of his famously long cigars to get lip cancer by the end of the movie’s 105-minute running time. Yet, Churchill also portrays him as a ‘has been’ and deeply flawed. The Winston here cannot understand why people don’t listen to him; is an alcoholic after being worn down by four years of war; a bully to his secretary (Ella Purnell); a poor, inattentive husband to his wife, Clemmie (Miranda Richardson); and a pain in the backside to the British and American generals. (All the film-makers needed was to add Churchill’s racism and then it would have been complete.)

Winston, smoking a cigar, lectures an unimpressed-looking General Dwight D. Eisenhower (John Slattery), who was the Supreme Head of the American (and Allied) forces in Europe during WWII. He clashed with Churchill often as the war went on.

The way Churchill is portrayed in the movie, though, is generally thought-provoking, and it is fascinating to see how his past experiences affect his decision-making. But when it comes to the preparations for Operation Overlord, Churchill takes events past the point of credulity (and probably historical accuracy too) by showing us that he was vehemently opposed to the D-Day plans, per se. It is true that in 1944 Winston had doubts over whether the Normandy landings would succeed (which could easily be coupled with how many men he feared would die in the operation, whether it succeeded or not). This is understandable (and moral), even without him being haunted by the events of 1915. Nevertheless, this is different from being categorically against even the idea of the operation. The academic, Nigel Hamilton, argues that the Prime Minister disagreed with the Normandy landings until he got an agreement from the Americans about working together on the nuclear bomb. This makes sense in the grander context of the era (which Churchill does not explain), and if the film would have gone down this route it would have demonstrated Winston’s political acumen. But it doesn’t. Instead, the movie has us believe that the Prime Minister prayed for God to unleash the heavens, biblical-style, so that D-Day would be called off. This does not seem to glove with Winston’s personality, and one wonders whether the film-makers had an ulterior motive for this perspective. (Anti-atomic weapons, anti-war, perhaps?)

Another problem with Churchill is that every line Winston delivers is spoken vociferously, as if to an auditorium (or history). This may have been what Churchill was like, but for a drama this should have been toned down. Before long, Winston’s need to practice his oratory for even the most banal of issues becomes tedious and risible. (It also makes viewers think that Teplitzky once read a book on Churchill’s hundred most famous quotes and tried to throw in as many as possible.)

Winston and Clemmie (Miranda Richardson) on the steps. Leading Britain and the Empire through the war takes its toll on Churchill and it is then that he needs his wife’s unfailing support. But only on his terms.

Otherwise, one can admire much about Churchill. The script is really good for what it aims to achieve, and it is humorous in the right places too. The cinematography of beaches, countryside manors, palaces and bunkers, is apt and gives viewers a decent taste of Churchill’s working environments during World War II. Furthermore, the actors all play their parts well, masterfully so in the cases of Brian Cox and Miranda Richardson. More than anything, it is through Richardson’s character/Clemmie that we see how difficult Churchill was as a person; that the gallant war hero of popular culture is just the myth that he created.

All-in-all, Churchill is a stimulating drama. It shows Winston Churchill as a man, plagued by the horrors of the Gallipoli disaster and intoxicated by whiskey and the paradox of his virtuoso and his doubts. However, one cannot escape the feeling that the film exaggerates the Prime Minister’s views on Operation Overlord at best, and gets them wrong at worst. To depict Churchill as utterly against the concept of an Allied invasion of Nazi-occupied France seems implausible; especially, if we are to believe that this is the same man who was hell-bent on the obliteration of Hitler’s Germany.

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Review – My Cousin Rachel (12a) [2017]

Star Rating: 2/5

Director

  • Roger Mitchell – Notting Hill, Changing Lanes, Venus, Le Week-End

Cast:

Music Composer:

  • Rael Jones – White Lie, Suite Française, Harlots, Noor

A psychological thriller should play with the viewer’s mind. The audience should not know the past or the motives of the key characters until they are revealed at crucial moments in the film. It is what gave movies like Basic InstinctGone Girl and Elle an edge and keeps viewers on their toes. My Cousin Rachel is a psychological thriller, but it is so dull. Why?

Philip (Sam Claflin) and Rachel (Rachel Weisz) awkwardly talking over tea upon meeting.

The film is based on the 1951 book with the same title by Daphne du Maurier. Philip (Sam Claflin) is raised by his cousin after his parents die when he is young. Now, almost old enough to inherit his cousin’s estate, he learns that his cousin died shortly after marrying a woman called Rachel (Rachel Weisz).

Philip believes that Rachel murdered his cousin and is enraged to find out that she will be coming to live at the estate. However, his feelings soon get complicated as he becomes infatuated with her, all the while wondering if Rachel will do the same to him as she did to his cousin…

My Cousin Rachel is a psychological thriller set in Jane Austin-era England. Nevertheless, its edge is immediately blunted when our central protagonist, Philip, narrates ‘did she or didn’t she,’ before proceeding to tell us the entire backstory of the movie up to the moment when he learns of his cousin’s death. This ruins the film and ignores the first rule of film-making: show, don’t tell. The audience does not need to have the backstory spelled out for them so early on and this information should have been dished out at the appropriate moments during the film. As a result, the audience’s curiosity of how the characters have come to this point, and how they have come to be who they are, is lost.

The terrible opening is just the start, though, as My Cousin Rachel goes downhill from then on. This is irritating because the film has a captivating premise. A man who falls in love with the possible murderer of his father-like figure should make for a compelling watch as the protagonist’s feelings should drive him to madness. Yet, the movie misses this open goal. Instead, it steers off course and becomes a nauseating calamity about a young man desperate for the attentions of an older woman. What on earth made Director Roger Mitchell think that that would make for a good psychological thriller?

Louise (Holliday Grainger) looking on sadly, as if she feels that she is losing her friend, Philip, to Rachel.

In case that were not bad enough, Philip is implausibly stupid and highly immature. He makes illogical and irrational decisions that test the patience (and the sympathy) of the audience. When a viewer starts to feel their patience wearing thin with the central protagonist, one begins to wonder why they should keep watching him and the film, unless the supporting cast make it worthwhile.

Sadly, this is a mixed bag. Ian Glen brings charm and gravitas to My Cousin Rachel with his Ser Jorah Mormont-voice that can melt butter. Glen does his utmost best with the (limited) script and time he has been given, and it is to the movie’s detriment that he is not given more to do. His on-screen daughter, Holliday Grainger, is unremarkable as the female support for Philip. One has sympathy for her character/Louise and this works in Grainger’s favour. However, Louise’s demeanour reminds one of Grainger’s past roles as Lucrezia Borgia and Anastacia in The Borgias and Cinderella, respectively. This taints Louise adversely. The sense that she may have an ulterior motive is never far from the viewer’s mind, especially as My Cousin Rachel is (or at least is supposed to be) a psychological thriller.

Nonetheless, Glen and Grainger are peripheral characters. It is Rachel Weisz as the titular Rachel that one looks out for. And Weisz is unusually poor here. Her chemistry with Claflin is non-existent and Rachel does not come across as manipulative or dangerous. This makes one wonder what her purpose is to the story (other than to be Philip’s fascination). It is not all Weisz’s fault that she comes across badly. The director does not give Rachel the screen-time or the script to demonstrate her true colours. But, still, Weisz looks disinterested throughout, and this negative energy emanates onto the audience who feel the same way about the film.

Nick (Ian Glen, left) giving Philip some much needed advice about Rachel, as she may not be who she seems.

  My Cousin Rachel, though, is not without its positives. The Cornwall countryside is wondrous to behold and the Victorian, aristocratic mansion that Philip lives in is dark and creepy. These features create a noir atmosphere that is tailor-made for a great psychological thriller. But cinematography alone cannot carry a film, even if it is used to its maximum potential.

Over-all, My Cousin Rachel is a disappointing movie. For a psychological thriller, it lacks the edge that makes films within the genre intriguing and nerve-wracking. The film is not helped by a poor script, key characters lacking in enthusiasm, and a premise that falls short of its promise. Ultimately, My Cousin Rachel is a self-pitying drama instead of a psychological thriller, and that is criminal for the genre.

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Review – Ghost In The Shell (12a) [2017]

Star Rating: 2.5/5

Director:

Cast:

  • Scarlet Johansson – The Prestige, HerCaptain America II & III, Lucy, The Avengers Assemble IIII
  • Pilou Asbæk – A Hijacking, Lucy, A War, Game of Thrones, The Guardian Angel
  • Juliette Binoche – The English Patient, Another Woman’s Life, Godzilla, Clouds of Sils Maria, Dark Glasses
  • Chin Han – The Dark Knight, 2012, Contagion, Captain America II, Independence Day II, A Different Sun
  • Michael Pitt – Dawson’s Creek, The Village, Funny Games, You Can’t Win
  • Peter Ferdinando – The Bill, Snow White and The Huntsman, Starred Up, 300: Rise of an Empire, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword
  • Takeshi Kitano – Brother, Blood And Bones, Beyond Outrage, A Living Promise, Outrage Coda

Music Composer:

  • Lorne Balfe – Ironclad, Not Another Happy Ending, Penguins of Madagascar, The LEGO Batman Movie, Churchill
  • Clint Mansell – Requiem For A Dream, Black Swan, Stoker, High-Rise, Mute

The issue of ‘whitewashing’ in Hollywood (i.e. when a white actor plays a non-white role) is nothing new. In 1931 Warner Oland played the role of a Chinese detective Charlie Chan in Charlie Chan Carries On and in 1956 John Wayne played Genghis Khan in The Conqueror. One would like to think that Hollywood had moved on since the mid-twentieth century. But Christian Bale, Aaron Paul, Sigourney Weaver and Joel Edgerton playing Middle Easterners (with risible fake tan sprayed onto them) in 2014’s Exodus; Tilda Swinton playing the Ancient One in last year’s Doctor Strange (even though the comic-book character is meant to be from the Himalayas); and Matt Damon playing the white saviour of the native Chinese in The Great Wall earlier this year, proves otherwise. And the whitewashing ludicrously continues in Ghost In The Shell.

Major (Scarlett Johansson), on the opeating table, being created.

Ghost In The Shell is a sci-fi film based on the Japanese Manga series and the 1995 film with the same name. The movie begins in the near future in a city that resembles Tokyo/Hong Kong. Hanka Robotics, a corporation, is trying to improve mankind by putting people’s brains into robot’s bodies and enhancing their strengths. One such robot is Major (Scarlett Johansson). The corporation deem her the best of her kind, a super-weapon to fight terrorism.

But Major has feelings and emotions, like a person. What if she does not want to be just a weapon for Hanka? What of her memories that she struggles with? And where did she come?

Ghost In The Shell is a sci-fi action thriller and very disappointing. The whitewashing element is problematical in and of itself as Scarlet Johansson looks incongruous in this Tokyo-/Hong Kong-like city. But the whitewashing is also a convenient distraction for Hollywood and Rupert Sanders (back helming a film for the first time since Snow White and The Huntsman, following his adulterous affair with Kristen Stewart). For a film that is supposed to be a thriller, Ghost In The Shell is anything but thrilling.

Major in action, about to take out terrorists. Alas, the bodysuit is more noticeable than anything she might achieve.

Firstly, one can see where the movie is heading as obviously as a sinner to hell. If one has watched The Fifth Element, i,Robot and Blade Runner (to name but three), a viewer will feel like he/she has seen this film before. Secondly, Ghost In The Shell misses the point of its own existence. Sanders could have even used the whitewashing of Major’s character to his benefit and made the film interesting. For example, he could have explored the issue of identity. Then, Major could have asked herself if skin colour is central to a person’s identity, or if it is her memories, or if it is her characteristics, or her actions (or her sex drive as Alex Garland cleverly did in Ex Machina). But does Sanders do any of this? No, and that is why Ghost In The Shell is so disappointing, plot-wise.

Other than the plot, the acting is OK. The film is dominated by Scarlett Johansson and she plays decently enough. She is not as good as Alicia Vikander was in Ex Machina, but that has probably more to do with the lousy script than Johansson’s acting. (Incidentally, the script was written by Ehren Kruger, renowned writer of trash like Scream 3 and Transformers II, III & IV. In hindsight, Ghost In The Shell was doomed from the start.) But the lousy script aside, Johansson is undone by the gratuitous, nude bodysuit she wears throughout the film. It is so off-putting that even if the script had been as strong as Ex Machina’s, or that of Her in which Johansson terrifically voiced a talking operating system, Johansson still would have been undermined.

Kuze (Michael Pitt), an older version of Major that got away. One wonders: why would this deformed robot have gone rogue…?

Lastly, and by far the best part of Ghost In The Shell, is the world and the special effects. The city is at once neon-lit and futuristic, yet dark and seedy at the same time. None of this is original and much of it resembles Blade Runner, The Fifth Element or Tron on hallucinogens. Nevertheless, it is the most engaging part of the movie and that speaks volumes for how unengaging the storyline and the characters are.

Over-all, Ghost In The Shell is an unsatisfactory film. The movie could have gone in so many fascinating directions, but instead it chose the hackneyed one that audiences have seen before. That would have been bad enough. That Scarlett Johansson plays the main, non-white protagonist exacerbates the film’s many issues. Seriously, Hollywood, we’re in 2017. How is whitewashing still an issue? Enough is enough already! A white person playing a Japanese robot looks as out of place in Ghost In The Shell as a nuclear warhead would in Lord of the Rings.

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Review – Elle (18) [2017]

Star Rating 4/5

Director:

  • Paul Verhoeven – Robocop, Basic Instinct, Starship Troopers, Black Book, Lyon 1943

Cast:

  • Isabelle Hubbert – Hidden Love, Amour, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them, Barrage
  • Laurent Latiffe – The Crimson Rivers, Little White Lies, Divorce French Style, KO
  • Anne Consigny – 36th Precinct, Wild Grass, History’s Future, La Deuxième Étoile
  • Charles Berling – Ridicule, Forbidden House, March of the Penguins, Flueve Noir
  • Virginie Efira – Second Chance, It Boy, Up For Love, Pris de Court
  • Christian Berkel – Downfall, Inglorious Basterds, Anti-Social, In Wahrheit
  • Judith Maguire – The Lovers, Jesus of Montreal, Nathalie…, Parisiennes
  • Jonas Bloquet – Private Lessons, The Family, 3 Days To Kill, Valerian and the City of a Thousands Planets
  • Alice Isaaz – The Gilded Cage, Smart Ass, One Wild Moment, Espèces Menacées

Music Composer:

  • Anne Dudley – The Gathering, Black Book, Poldark, Away

How did Emma Stone win the Oscar for Actress in a Leading Role earlier this year? Yes, her performance in La La Land was decent. But it was not Oscar worthy. There were other performances than deserved the award more than hers. One need only look at Amy Adams’ two superb performances in Nocturnal Animals and Arrival to see better performances (both of which were scandalously disregarded even for nominations!). Another performance is that of Isabelle Hubbert in Elle.

Michèle (Isabelle Hubbert) out with friends and drinking wine, after her ordeal.

Elle is directed by Paul Verhoeven and based on the book oh… by Philippe Dijon. The film begins with Michèle (Isabelle Hubbert), a successful business woman, getting raped in her plush Parisian home by someone wearing a ski mask. Who is it? And, more pertinently, why does Michèle not call the police?

Elle is a French psychological thriller. Paul Verhoeven has Showgirls and Basic Instinct in his back catalogue. But neither of those films are on a par with Elle as Elle is highly disturbing and morally bankrupt film, even by the standards of the genre.

The movie revolves around Michèle and the people who surround her: in particular, her friends; her neighbours; her colleagues; her aging mother and her (toyboy) boyfriend; and her delinquent son and his (scummy) girlfriend. Very soon into the film, however, it becomes apparent that our protagonist plays fast and loose with the truth and that she is not just an unfortunate victim of a horrific crime. This is a woman with a bad past and her behaviour is that of a sociopath.

Michèle buying an axe to defend herself against potential future intruders and assaults.

Furthermore, Michèle does not react to the rape like someone who has been raped. (Granted, there is no single reaction to this and everyone reacts differently, but) Michèle displays no hint of numbness or of being shattered, personality-wise. This raises the troubling question of whether she has been raped at all; especially as, before long, her rapist is texting her. How many masked rapists do that? Also, the rapist broke into her house. Why is there no sign of a break in?

These are for Elle to answer. Yet, when the answers come they don’t make sense in the context of the rest of the film. This is very disappointing. One can expect to be thrown off guard by a psychological thriller, for sure. Gone Girl did that with spectacular success and jaws gaped. But with Elle, one merely thinks: huh?

This is not the only problem with the movie. The score is filled with cheap tropes. Foreboding music plays on the nerves when it is unnecessary, where there is no danger for the characters. This irritates the viewer after a while, as the music is as untrustworthy as our central protagonist.

Michèle looking lovingly at her married friend and neighbour, Patrick (Laurent Latiffe).

Speaking again of Michèle, Isabelle Hubbert plays her phenomenally well and covers many of the holes in Elle’s plot. Indeed, all of the actors play really well. Yet, Hubbert is outstanding in the lead role. She captivates and makes her character come alive in a dishearteningly plausible way. This feat should not be underestimated as Michèle is a multifaceted person, who is as envious as she is successful, as underhand as she is shameless, and as villainous as she is a victim. This again forces one to question how Emma Stone won the Oscar earlier this year. Stone’s role in La La Land was not nearly as demanding as Hubbert’s in Elle, and Stone did not hold the attention of the audience as Hubbert does here.

All-in-all, Elle is a French psychological thriller. It has its flaws story-wise, and it is sick and twisted at its core. But it also has brilliant, praiseworthy performances; Isabelle Hubbert’s being exceptional. It is a shame that she has not received more recognition and awards for her role. It is a travesty that she was overlooked in favour of Emma Stone.

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Review – Denial (12a) [2017]

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Star Rating: 4/5

Director:

  • Mick Jackson – The Bodyguard, Volcano, Temple Grandin

Cast:

Music Composer:

  • Howard Shore – The Lord of the Rings I-III, A History of Violence, The Departed, The Hobbit III & III, The Spider

If 2016 determined anything, it was that we now live in a Post-Truth era. In such an era, facts do not matter since there are ‘alternative facts’ that just have to sound real to be true. Yet, does that mean there are no incontrovertible facts at all? What about the existence of gravity, or that the Earth is round, or whether Henry VIII had six wives, or whether the Holocaust happened? In 2000, the High Court of England determined at least one of these facts. Director Mike Jackson’s Denial brings the libel case that the antisemitic, Neo-Nazi propagandist David Irving brought and lost against the American academic, Deborah Lipstadt, to the big screen.

Deborah Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz) addressing students on Holocaust denial in 1994, where she asserts that David Irving is a liar.

Deborah Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz) addressing students on Holocaust denial in 1994, where she ass that David Irving is a liar.

Denial is based on the case and the book, History On Trial, by Deborah Lipstadt. The film opens pretty much with the scene in the trailer where Deborah (Rachel Weisz) is addressing students about the Holocaust in 1994. No sooner does she say that David Irving is a liar and that she will never debate with Holocaust deniers, when Irving (Timothy Spall) stands up and mocks her. Deborah refuses to speak with him or deny her accusation. Subsequently, Irving takes legal action against her. Deborah responds by getting together a legal team, consisting predominantly of barrister Richard Rampton (Tom Wilkinson) and solicitor Anthony Julius (Andrew Scott), and they set about uncovering Irving’s ‘facts’ for the lies they are.

Denial is a slick legal thriller. It goes through the different stages of the case very well, so that viewers understand the sheer amount of work the lawyers had to do at the pre-trial stages and during the trial itself. The movie shows all of this with efficiency, particularly from Lipstadt’s side; Irving’s less so, but that is because he did not have a lawyer to represent him in court. (Irving claimed that no-one could represent him better than himself. Lipstadt and her legal team believed that he could not afford the legal fees.)

David Irving (Timothy Spall) stands up to Deborah's accusation and urges her to argue with him on the 'facts' that the Holocaust did not happen.

David Irving (Timothy Spall) stands up to Deborah’s accusation and urges her to argue with him on the ‘facts’ that the Holocaust did not happen.

Irving is portrayed with relish by Timothy Spall as a vain, headline grabbing, publicity-seeker. At times, it is almost comical watching him pander to the cameras (or the cameras to him). Yet, at other times, one just wants to ask him: don’t you realise how stupid you are going to look at the end of this? And this is not just because we know he is going to lose the case. It is because, as is typical with bigots, antisemitic or otherwise, they let their prejudices distort their realities to the point where the differences between black and white, night and day, and fire and ice no longer exist. Regardless, Spall makes Irving entertaining to watch, which is quite an achievement since the man is a Hitler lover.

Irving’s opponents are played well too. Rachel Weisz turns in a (very) strong New York accent and portrays Lipstadt as passionate and uncompromising in her belief to take down an odious Holocaust denier. Andrew Scott illustrates Anthony Julius aptly as a cold and pugnacious borderline sociopath. And Tom Wilkinson does a good job as Richard Rampton, showing him to have a soul to go with his professional façade.

Denial is driven by its protagonists. It is just as well too, as the film does not have much else going for it. For one, one feels no tension as the case builds up to its verdict. Considering the protagonists keep stressing how massive the case is and that it will determine if the Holocaust happened (as absurd as that sounds), it is startling that one feels nothing. And before one argues that it is impossible to feel anything as viewers know the outcome before going into Denial, let us remind ourselves that we felt euphoric after King George VI gave his speech in The King’s Speech; that we felt endangered when Batman and Bane first went to blows in The Dark Knight Rises; and that we felt heart-broken when Alice gained Early-Onset Alzheimer’s in Still Alice, despite knowing what would happen by the end in those movies. This indicates that director Mike Jackson’s sense of timing needs improvement.

The real Deborah Lipstadt with her legal team, back in 2000, after her victory.

The real Deborah Lipstadt with her legal team, back in 2000, after her victory.

Second, the film misses out a noteworthy (and hilarious) moment in the case, which is astonishing. And, three, Howard Shore’s music score is hugely disappointing. Like the film, his score becomes mawkish and sentimental when it needs to crank up the tension. For a man who once wrote the wondrous, engrossing music for The Lord of the Rings, one knows he can do better. Indeed, one knows that courtroom drama can be done better. Watch the recent National Treasure, starring Robbie Coltrane.

All-in-all, Denial is a nicely put together legal thriller. It has a good cast that perform well and it does a decent job at portraying the case that David Irving brought against Deborah Lipstadt. More significantly, though, the movie forensically examines the evidence we have to prove that the Holocaust happened and surgically debunks Holocaust denial. Thus, like gravity, like the Earth is round, and like Henry VIII having six wives, the Holocaust’s occurrence as a historical fact is incontestable. Bearing in mind the era we live in currently, that is vital.

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