Category Archives: Book based

Review – Exodus: Gods And Kings (12a) [2014]

Exodus - title banner

Star Rating: 3/5

Director:

Cast:

  • Christian Bale – The Machinist, The Fighter, The Dark Knight I-III, American Hustle, The Big Short
  • Joel Edgerton – Smokin’ Aces, Warrior, Zero Dark Thirty, The Gift
  • John Turturro – Anger Management, Transformers I-III, The Taking of Pelham 123, Hands of Stone
  • Aaron Paul – Mission: Impossible III, The Last House On The Left, Breaking Bad, Need For Speed, Eye In The Sky
  • Sigourney Weaver – Alien I-V, Ghostbusters I & II, Paul, The Cabin In The Woods, A Monster Calls
  • Ben Mendelsohn – The New World, Killing Them Softly, The Dark Knight Rises, Mississippi Grind
  • María Valverde – Body Confusion, The Anarchist’s Wife, The Liberator, Broken Horses
  • Ben Kingsley – Schindler’s List, Prince of Persia: Sands of Time, Hugo, Iron Man III, The DictatorKnight of Cups
  • Indira Varma – Rome, Basic Instinct II, Silk, Game of Thrones, Caesar
  • Hiam Abbass – Munich, Lemon Tree, A Bottle In The Gaza Sea, Nothing Escapes My Eyes

Music Composer:

In my review of Prometheus in 2012, I wrote that since Gladiator came out in 2000 all of Ridley Scott’s films have not been good enough for a director who once made Alien, Blade Runner and Gladiator. Since 2000, Scott has consistently made disappointing films like Kingdom of Heaven, Robin Hood and Prometheus, while 2013’s The Counsellor was rotten to the core. So bearing in mind Scott’s portfolio over the last fourteen years, what could one expect with Exodus: Gods And Kings?

Pharaoh Rameses II (Joel Edgerton), the villain of the Exodus story, looking splendid and glorious.

Pharaoh Rameses II (Joel Edgerton), the villain of the Exodus story, looking splendid and glorious.

The film starts with (the anachronistic method) of a transcript, giving viewers the political context of the movie, as well as Moses’ position in Ancient Egypt. Subsequently, the film centres round Moses of the Torah and we follow him (Christian Bale) as a young adult living among the elites in Cairo; through his exile and marriage to Zipporah (María Valverde); to finally taking his place as the first leader of the enslaved Israelite/Jewish people and leading them out of Ancient Egypt via the Red Sea.

Exodus: Gods And Kings is a lively adaptation of the famous Biblical tale. The film is not absolutely historically accurate (especially if one swears by the Quran) and contains much artistic license. Some of the inaccuracies are avoidable, for example the number of years that the Israelites were enslaved for. But others inaccuracies are unavoidable and require the artistic license that Scott employs because there is no historical record of it; for example, where and what Moses did in exile.

If one can overcome these inaccuracies, one can appreciate many of the enjoyable elements of the movie. Scott impressively designs Ancient Egypt to give viewers a feel for how ancient Cairo and the slave city of Piton probably looked like; the battle at the start of the film is really good (although, strikingly similar to the battle in the opening scenes of Gladiator); the splitting of the Red Sea is refreshingly different from the conventional story (although, one recently saw a better example of what the film achieves in Interstellar); and the CGI plagues and godly miracles are emphatic and vividly memorable.

Moses (Christian Bale) speaking with Nun (Ben Kingsley), one of the enslaved leaders of the Jewish tribes in Piton, about the need to escape Egypt.

Moses (Christian Bale) speaking with Nun (Ben Kingsley), one of the enslaved leaders of the Jewish tribes in Piton, about the need to escape Egypt.

Furthermore, Exodus depicts Moses in an innovative and interesting way that is seldom discussed. This is important as Moses was a human being (who we know little about), so his (real or possible) flaws should be laid bare for us so we can assess what sort of a man he was. Exodus does this in a pseudo-intelligent manner and Scott should rightly be recognised for trying to do something different.

However, sadly, Scott undermines his idea of Moses, as well as the other key individuals from this period, with his poor choice of casting. Forget the racism issue (which Scott daftly fuelled with his lamentable responses); none of the actors in the main roles look their part. Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton, Ben Mendelsohn, Aaron Paul and Sigourney Weaver do not look like they are Ancient Egyptian or Mediterranean, and no amount of spray tan and make-up can change that. And, also, what was Scott thinking when he chose Christian Bale to be Moses? How can Batman be Moses? It just isn’t believable, and if viewers cannot believe in the characters, it is an uphill struggle for the cast to come across convincingly.

In fairness to the cast, they are handicapped by the wretchedly written script that relegates all, but Moses, to one-dimensional characters. The biggest victim of the script is the main villain: Pharaoh Rameses II, played by Joel Edgerton. If Scott’s intention had been to make Rameses be Exodus’s Commodus, Scott fails miserably. One may have loathed Commodus by the end of Gladiator, but that was only because Scott gave him/Joaquin Phoenix the chance to be loathed. Scott does not give Rameses/Edgerton such a chance, consigning Rameses to a pathetic, ranting idiot, who is unfit to rule. This is a shame (and gratingly frustrating) because it is a waste of a talent like Edgerton, because it is contrary to history, and most significantly because one feels nothing towards Rameses by the end.

The plague of hail. This is one of the ten plagues that rains down on Egypt after Rameses refuses Moses' request to let his people go.

The plague of hail. This is one of the ten plagues that rains down on Egypt after Rameses refuses Moses’ request to let his people go.

Speaking of the end, it takes an Earth’s turn to get there. One cares so little for the characters in Exodus that the movie’s 150-minutes running-time feels like double that. To think that Gladiator, at 155-minutes, was longer than Exodus, is surprising as it felt shorter. This speaks volumes for just how much of a masterpiece Gladiator was, and how far Scott’s stock has fallen as a director since 2000.

Overall, Exodus: Gods And Kings is not a terrible film. One may object to the historical inaccuracies within the film, yet this cannot be helped due to the limited amount of source material available on the subject. Instead, one should enjoy the aspects of the movie that have been done well. That is, if one can overcome Scott’s glaring casting errors and the poverty of the script that leaves even Christian Bale, one of the most talented actors of the current era, struggling for conviction. But, then again, what did one expect from Exodus? Another film of Gladiator’s quality? Don’t be ridiculous! Just be grateful that Exodus is not another Prometheus.

PG’s Tips

Advertisements

Review – The Hobbit III: The Battle of the Five Armies HFR 3D (12a) [2014]

The Hobbit III - title banner

Star Rating: 2/5

Director:

  • Peter Jackson – Lord of the Rings TrilogyThe Lovely BonesThe Hobbit I & IIThe Adventures of Tintin II

Additional Writer:

  • Guillermo Del Toro – Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy I-III, Mama, Pinnochio

Cast:

  • Martin Freeman – The OfficeThe World’s EndSherlockFargo, Captain America III
  • Ian McKellen – Lord of the Rings TrilogyX-Men I-IIIX-Men: Days of Future Past, Mr Holmes
  • Cate Blanchett – Notes On A ScandalBlue JasmineCinderella
  • Richard Armitage – Captain America: The First AvengerBlack SkyInto The Storm
  • Aiden Turner – AlarmThe Mortal Instruments: City of Bones
  • Ken Scott – CasanovaCharlie Wilson’s WarOne Day
  • Graham McTavish – Rambo24: Day 8ColumbianaCreed
  • Benedict Cumberbatch – Tinker Tailor Soldier SpyStar Trek II: Into DarknessThe Fifth Estate12 Years A Slave
  • Orlando Bloom – The Lord of the Rings I-IIIThe Kingdom of HeavenThe Good DoctorZulu
  • Lee Pace – The FallTwilight IV: Breaking Dawn: Part IILincoln, Untitled Lance Armstrong Biopic
  • Evangeline Lilly – LostThe Hurt LockerReal Steel
  • Luke Evans – Clash of the TitansImmortalsThe RavenDracula Untold
  • Stephen Fry – V For VendettaAlice In WonderlandSherlock Holmes II: A Game of Shadows, Once Upon A Time In The Kitchen
  • Ian Holm – Lord of the Rings I IIILord of WarRatatouille
  • Christopher Lee – Lord of the Rings TrilogySeason of the WitchThe Girl From Nagasaki
  • Hugo Weaving – The Matrix TrilogyLord of the Rings TrilogyCaptain America: The First AvengerTransformers I-III, Strangerland

Music Composer:

  • Howard Shore – Lord of the Rings TrilogyHugoA Dangerous MethodThe Hobbit I II, Denial

(Please read my reviews of The Hobbit I: An Unexpected Journey and The Hobbit II: The Desolation of Smaug for context, as I won’t be going over points I’ve already made, such as the problems with the High Frame Rate, negotiations with the orcs, and the alterations that Jackson has made to the trilogy from the source material.)

Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings (LOTR) trilogy was one of the greatest trilogies of all time. It was beautifully put together and held phenomenal emotional weight that made viewers care about the characters in the story. The same, however, cannot be said for the first two volumes of the prequel trilogy. Nevertheless, could the final volume of the prequel trilogy, The Battle of the Five Armies, redeem The Hobbit trilogy?

Smaug the Dragon (voiced thunderously by Benedict Cumberbatch) is our of the Lonely Mountain and torching Laketown.

Smaug the Dragon (voiced thunderously by Benedict Cumberbatch) is our of the Lonely Mountain and torching Laketown.

The Hobbit III starts where The Desolation of Smaug ended: with Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch) unleashing his fury upon Laketown. But with the dragon now out of the Lonely Mountain, there is a huge treasure of gold to be had. The greedy leader of the dwarves, Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), may not want to share it, but the people of Laketown, as well as armies of elves, orcs, and other dwarves come for their share of the treasure all the same. Thus, the battle of the five armies begins…

The Hobbit III is the shortest of The Hobbit films at 144 minutes and that is one of the movie’s saving graces. Well, that, the opening scene when the Cumberdragon burns Laketown, and the ending itself. The desolation of Laketown is done well, particularly as it’s given the right length of time, as well as the right amount of comedy, action and special effects for it to be spectacular.

Thorin (Richard Armitage) looking for the Arkenstone within a vault of gold so deep he could swim in it like Scrooge McDuck.

Thorin (Richard Armitage) looking for the Arkenstone within a vault of gold so deep he could swim in it like Scrooge McDuck.

It is a shame that the ‘epic’ titular battle, itself, is neither spectacular nor given the right amount of time. It is 45-minutes of repetitive, pleasure-seeking action, devoid of the laws of physics, emotional weight, and should have been cut in half. One does not care what happens to the dwarves or the CGI orcs as they’re all synonymous and lifeless. Plus, if Jackson had comprehended the problems of the hour-long battle in Transformers III or the 40-minute fight in Man of Steel he would not have allowed his ‘epic’ battle go on for so long because it loses its sense of timing. Without the crucial ingredient of timing, the battle becomes snooze-inducing. But then again, the dwarves have always been synonymous throughout the trilogy, the (dark-skinned, deformed) orcs have been there merely to be slaughtered, and more or less every scene in An Unexpected Journey and The Desolation of Smaug went on for too long, had no sense of timing and ignored the laws of physics. So there really was no hope Jackson learning his lessons and making The Battle of the Five Armies an emotionally fulfilling, succinct masterpiece.

Bard (Luke Evans) on a mule and the King of the Elves, Thranduil (Lee Pace), on a... reindeer? Anyway, they have arrived among an army of elves and men to claim their shares of the treasures in the Lonely Mountain.

Bard (Luke Evans) on a mule and the King of the Elves, Thranduil (Lee Pace), on a… reindeer? Anyway, they have arrived among an army of elves and men to claim their shares of the treasures in the Lonely Mountain.

And like the muddled titular battle, the rest of The Hobbit III is dispiritingly all over the place. That The Hobbit has had a troubled production history might go some way to elucidating why The Hobbit III, in particular, is so bad. (A film based on The Hobbit book was supposed to have been written shortly after the successful conclusion of the LOTR in 2003, but didn’t materialise. Guillermo Del Toro was appointed to direct The Hobbit at some point in the late-2000s, but stepped down for unspecified reasons. Jackson, subsequently, came to the rescue of the project, only for Del Toro to come back on board in some capacity. And, then, after initially deciding to make two films out of the 300-page book, Jackson decided to split the second film in two and shoot new scenes in 2012/13 to make The Hobbit into a trilogy in post-production.) But is the film’s troubled history truly a reason for why the dialogue is so clunky; for why the aftermath of Laketown goes on for too long; for why storylines (unforgivably) do no conclude; for why the central premises of the film/trilogy are (inexcusably) forgotten; and for why the eponymous character of the trilogy, Bilbo Baggins (played with charm by Martin Freeman), feels like a peripheral figure in the concluding chapter of his own story, among other things? The Hobbit III is so unsatisfying that the answers cannot boil down solely to a troubled production history, especially as Viggo Mortensen (Aragorn) claimed earlier this year that the LOTR had a chaotic production too. This entails that the film’s/trilogy’s faults lie with Jackson, who has done nothing of significance since the LOTR and has now shown that he can muck up something he loves if he is not controlled.

Azog the Defiler (Manu Bennett) roaring an army of orcs toward the Lonely Mountain to kill the dwarves and everyone else.

Azog the Defiler (Manu Bennett) roaring an army of orcs toward the Lonely Mountain to kill the dwarves and everyone else.

One might have pardoned Jackson for some of the aforementioned errors in The Hobbit III (and the trilogy as a whole) if he had added something innovative to Tolkien’s universe. It would have made for interesting viewing if he had given audiences details of the backgrounds, cultures and religions of the peoples of Middle-Earth that Tolkien, himself, failed to put into his stories, or put in a Machiavellian-style character (like Littlefinger from Game of Thrones). But no, Jackson (depressingly) doesn’t do any of this, meaning that people go away from this bloated film/trilogy knowing nothing more about the wizards, men, elves, dwarves and orcs of Middle-Earth than they did after the LOTR. Simply put: this is not good enough, Jackson.

Over-all, one can breathe a sigh of relief that The Hobbit trilogy is over. While The Battle of the Five Armies has a couple of good moments, like the opening scene and the end credits, it is a mess and suffers from the same issues as The Hobbit I & II: notably, its swollen length to accommodate the extreme self-indulgence, tedium and sameness. Whilst watching The Hobbit III, it feels like one is watching a glutton stuff his/her face, whilst the problems within The Hobbit trilogy as well as the problems surrounding the trilogy’s production illuminate before one’s eyes. Worse, The Hobbit III and the trilogy as a whole show up the problems within Tolkien’s works, including the LOTR. Peter Jackson, how could you go so wrong?

PG’s Tips

Review – The Drop (15) [2014]

The Drop - title banner

Star Rating: 4/5

Director:

  • Michael R. Roskam – Bullhead

Cast:

Music Composer:

The engine to every story/film is its characters. Without characters, viewers have no means of entering the story and so cannot enjoy the story. But do characters have to be likeable for viewers to enjoy the story? Rust And Bone and The Wolf Of Wall Street demonstrated that characters could be repugnant, yet the story/film could still be enjoyed. Michael R. Roskam’s The Drop adds further evidence to this theory.

Bob (Tom Hardy) with his boss and cousin, Marv (James Gandolfini, in his final role before his death) outside the back of Cousin Marv's, listening to their Chechen gangster boss.

Bob (Tom Hardy) with his boss and cousin, Marv (James Gandolfini, in his final role before his death) outside the back of Cousin Marv’s, listening to their Chechen gangster boss.

The Drop is based on the short story Animal Rescue by Dennis Lehane. The film is about two intertwining stories that take place in a poor part of Brooklyn, New York. Bob (Tom Hardy) is a bartender who works for his cousin Marv (James Gandolfini) at the latter’s former bar. Cousin Marv, as the bar is called (even though Marv no longer owns it), is a drop box for local gangsters to put brown envelopes of cash into. However, one night, the bar is robbed by gunmen and Marv’s boss, a Chechen gangster called Chovka (Michael Aranov), wants to know where his money has gone. Or else.

At the same time, Bob walks home from the bar one night, only to overhear a dog whimpering in the dustbin of a neighbour, Nadia (Noomi Rapace). Bob opens the bin to find a maltreated pit-bull puppy in it. Between him and Nadia, they take care of the puppy. Nevertheless, one day when Bob is playing with the dog in the park, the notorious Eric Deeds (Matthias Schoenaerts) finds him and tells him that the dog belongs to him. Bob insists that he is not giving up the dog, and that is when Eric tells him that if he does not pay him $10,000 by the next day for the dog, he promises to kill him, maltreat the puppy again, and do worse to Nadia.

Bob with Nadia (Noomi Rapace), buying stuff for the pitbull puppy, Rocco.

Bob with Nadia (Noomi Rapace), buying stuff for the pitbull puppy, Rocco.

The Drop is a slow-burning, increasingly tense thriller. The film feels less like a Hollywood production and more like a British one due to the gloomy mood throughout the movie’s 106-minute running time. Indeed, if it weren’t for the accents and the design of the houses, one might have mistaken it for a British production due to the constant grim, grey sky and the run down state of the homes in the area. Such features are typical of British productions like Harry Brown, Tyrannosaur and the Channel 4 TV series Top Boy, and enable viewers to feel the brooding atmosphere of a place in which something nasty is going to happen.

One senses that something nasty is going to happen because the area in which The Drop is located in is full of nasty people, ready to do (and cover up) their dirty work. The nasty people are all brought to life vividly by a cast with less than a handful of redemptive features between them. Tom Hardy commands a strong performance in the central role. He personifies the brooding atmosphere of the film with his perpetual frown, and few actors have Hardy’s rare ability to convey so much with just a bland stare.

Of the rest of the cast, Noomi Rapace does a good job with Nadia, even if she does not have a lot to work with other than being low on confidence and insecure. Similarly, Matthias Schoenaerts plays well (and with worrying realism) in his familiar role as a scum bug. At least in Rust And Bone, Schoenaerts’ character had one redemptive feature. In The Drop, his character has none! Yet, none of the characters are as ostensibly interesting as the one performed by James Gandolfini in his final role. Gandolfini’s character, Marv, may not be a nice person. But he is the most layered and complex character in the film and this makes viewers want to see more of him/Gandolfini as, arguably, it is Marv that makes the movie tick.

Nadia, looking good but ditressed with Eric Deeds (Matthias Schoenaerts) at Cousin Marv's.

Nadia, looking good but ditressed with Eric Deeds (Matthias Schoenaerts) at Cousin Marv’s.

The setting and the acting are top-notch in The Drop. However, other than those (very important) elements, the film does not have much else to ride on. The plot raises several questions that go unanswered, which is annoying because the questions do not seem especially difficult to answer. Additionally, some of the key moments in the movie take place off-screen, which is again annoying. There is a rule in art: show, don’t tell. That The Drop ignores this rule is its major hindrance as otherwise it is a very solid film.

Over-all, The Drop consists of most things that one could want from a slow-burning thriller. For certain, it has some plot holes that could have been handled better. Nevertheless, the dismal and threatening atmosphere of the film; the gradual rise in tension; and the fine acting of the cast all make the movie thoroughly worthwhile and enjoyable. Thus, The Drop illustrates once more that a film with dislikeable characters can still be enjoyed.

PG’s Tips

Review – Gone Girl (18) [2014]

Gone Girl - title banner2

Star Rating: 4.5/5

Director:

  • David Fincher – Fight Club, The West Wing, The Social Network, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

Cast:

  • Ben Affleck – Pearl Harbour, Paycheck, Argo, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
  • Rosamund Pike – Die Another Day, An Education, Wrath of the Titans, Return To Sender
  • Neil Patrick Harris – Starship Troopers, Beastly, Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs, The Good Dinosaur
  • Carrie Coon – The Leftovers
  • Tyler Perry – Why Did I Get Married?, I Can Do Bad All By Myself, Good Deeds, The Single Mom’s Club
  • Emily Ratajkowski – Entourage, We Are You Friends
  • Kim Dickens – Red, Lost, The Blind Side, Sons of Anarchy
  • Sela Ward – Independence Day II: Resurgence

Music Composers:

  • Trent Resner – The Social Network, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, Brainport: Soul of a City
  • Atticus Ross – The Book of Eli, The Social Network, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, Blackhat

When people get married, they make a vow to one another to stay together for life. At the time of making their vows, couples believe that their bonds are strong and that any hurdles they face in their marriage will be overcome. Nevertheless, there are some hurdles that cannot always be overcome, whether it is due to the behaviour of one or both of the spouses, or due to factors beyond a couple’s control. David Fincher’s excellent new film, Gone Girl, dramatically explores what couples maybe can and cannot endure in a marriage when certain fundamental aspects of any relationship/marriage are tested to the limit.

Nick (Ben Affleck) and Amy (Rosamund Pike) happily married, looking for books in a library.

Nick (Ben Affleck) and Amy (Rosamund Pike) happily married, looking for books in a library.

Gone Girl is a psychological thriller, adapted from the 2012 novel with the same title by Gillian Flynn. Nick and Amy Dunne are a young, happily married couple. But on the day of their fifth wedding anniversary, Nick (Ben Affleck) comes home to find that his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) has vanished. Nick reports his wife as missing to the police. But as the investigation gets under way, the shadier sides of Nick’s personality are uncovered, leaving the police to question whether he is guilty of something sinister.

Gone Girl is a fascinating film that looks into Amy’s disappearance in detail. Like with Fincher’s critically acclaimed The Social Network, Gone Girl gives each side a fair amount of time to tell their version of events throughout its 150-minute running time. Cleverly, in between flash backs, the movie dangles carrots of information before viewers, so they jump to conclusions, only to be given new pieces of information that force them to rethink all that they previously knew (or thought they knew) about Nick and Amy. Impressively, this continues in a mature way right up to and including the final scene.

Nick going to the tavern to speak with his twin-sister, Margo (Carrie Coon), about how his relationship with Amy is almost non-existent.

Nick going to the tavern to speak with his twin-sister, Margo (Carrie Coon), about how his relationship with Amy is almost non-existent.

Suffice to say, Gone Girl is an intense movie in which one cannot go to the bathroom for a break at any point. Scenes move quickly; too quickly, perhaps. Yet, each scene is crucial, not just in terms of plot, but in terms of the important issues the film raises because they affect normal people in relationships/marriage. Issues such as trust in a partner/spouse, the extent that one can believe any side of a story, the façade of a happy marriage, the gradual change of personality in one’s partner/spouse, the strain of economic hardships on a relationship/marriage, the strain on a relationship/marriage of having to move city or country for one reason or another, the prejudices of the police during investigations, and the role other people and the media can play over local (and international) opinions. That the film handles these issues in a neutral, adult way is a credit to the film that will leave audiences enthralled and unsure as to who is the hero and who is the villain.

Two reasons why audiences will be enthralled is due to the quality of the dialogue and the acting. Fincher’s trademark fast-talking dialogue is pulled off with aplomb by the talented cast, all of whom play superbly well. Significantly, the two main actors, Ben Affleck and Rosamind Pike, are outstanding and have great chemistry together. Yet, of the two, it is Pike who steals the show with a career-changing performance. The film may rush Amy’s character development, but Pike handles this well enough to guarantee that anything that is missing from Amy’s nature is of inconsequence.

Nick appealing to the public to help him find Amy, with posters of her missing to raise awareness about the situation.

Nick appealing to the public to help him find Amy, with posters of her missing to raise awareness about the situation.

Pike and Affleck’s superb performances aside, what also keeps Gone Girl so vivid is the suburban setting of the movie and the movie’s music score. The ordinariness of the location and the raw feel of the music add to the unnerving quality of the film because they compound the sense that (at least some of) what happens to Nick and Amy could happen to absolutely anyone.

Over-all, Gone Girl is a terrific and thought-provoking film that has been cleverly executed by a world-class director. The film sensibly deals with some profound issues that can derail and break even the strongest of marriages. Indeed, the level of profundity is intensified by the film’s location, the film’s music, and the film’s grounded and absorbing performances from the cast; in particular, from Rosamund Pike. All of the above will ensure that audiences will remain mesmerised long after Gone Girl has ended as viewers will not only be wondering who of the cast was (more?) to blame for the situation that unfolds in the film, but also whether or not one’s own relationship/marriage would survive if he/she were faced with similar circumstances.

PG’s Tips

Review – Before I Go To Sleep (15) [2014]

Before I Go To Sleep - title banner

Star Rating: 3/5

Director:

  • Rowan Joffe – Brighton Rock

Cast:

Music Composer:

  • Ed Shearmur – Cruel Intentions, Derailed, Miss Congeniality, Masters of Horror

In my review of last year’s Trance, I wrote about how psychological thrillers mess with the mind and how they tend to be enjoyable and very intense, with semi-plausible plot twists that keep audiences guessing long after the conclusion of the film. Before I Go To Sleep is more of the same and a credit to the genre.

Christine (Nicole Kidman) wakes up, as she does every morning, not knowing who she is or her husband, Ben (Colin Firth), sleeping next to her.

Christine (Nicole Kidman) wakes up, as she does every morning, not knowing who she is or her husband, Ben (Colin Firth), sleeping next to her.

Before I Go To Sleep is based on the 2011 novel with the same title by SJ Watson. The film centres round Christine (Nicole Kidman), an amnesiac unable to remember a thing from one day to the next, to the despondency of her husband, Ben (Colin Firth). Dr Nash (Mark Strong) calls Christine every morning to make her watch a video recording of herself from the previous day. This way Christine can remind herself of what she did the previous day in an attempt to cure herself of her amnesia and, more importantly, so that she can figure out/remember the truth about the incident that gave her amnesia.

Before I Go To Sleep is an intense and entertaining film. It is not as complex as Trance, but Before I Go To Sleep still holds audience’s attention with great success throughout its relatively short, 92-minute running time. What makes the movie so absorbing is the way the film slowly (and deliberately) dangles carrots of information to viewers, so that they naturally form conclusions in their heads as to how Christine became an amnesiac. This adds to the thrill of the story and guarantees that when the twist comes, it is a genuine surprise in a good way.

Christine having a meeting with Dr Nash (Mark Strong), without Ben's knowledge or consent.

Christine having a meeting with Dr Nash (Mark Strong), without Ben’s knowledge or consent.

However, whether the twist makes plausible sense upon looking back on the film is highly questionable. One of the problems with the twist is that viewers are not given a crucial piece of information midway through the film. While it is common in psychological thrillers not to reveal vital pieces of information about events prior to the starting point of the film (timeline-wise) until the final revelation, it is another thing entirely for information to be (cynically and sinfully) withheld from viewers from the start of the movie’s timeline. This feels like the director has cheated on his audience and not in a good way.

Putting the plot twist aside, the dialogue throughout the film has been well written and the acting is decent, without being outstanding. Nicole Kidman plays believably as the anxious and emotionally distraught central character. She looks the part: gaunt, skinny, vulnerable and confused. More could time been devoted to her backstory, but that is not the real issue with Kidman’s performance. The real issue is that her performance carries the odour from her last film: the ill-fated The Grace of Monaco. With this mephitic whiff emanating from Kidman, it is hard to watch her in Before I Go To Sleep without feeling that her career has fallen and that she is trying (hard) to get herself back on track again.

The same odour, however, does not affect from the performances of the two main members of the supporting cast. Both Colin Firth and Mark Strong do good jobs with the material that they are given. If anything, the material and screen-time that they are given lets them down. Neither Firth nor Strong are given enough time on screen and the movie does not explore their personalities and their motives deeply enough.

Christine watching and recording herself in secret to try and remind herself who she is and what did the previous day.

Christine watching and recording herself in secret to try and remind herself who she is and what did the previous day.

Apart from the acting, Ed Shearmur’s score is not outstanding but it is atmospheric and unsettling. This helps to mess with one’s mind and helps to make Before I Go To Sleep a good film and a worthwhile addition to its genre.

All-in-all, Before I Go To Sleep is a thoroughly enjoyable and intense psychological thriller. It has a much simpler plot than other films in its genre, but that is not to the movie’s detriment due to the force of the storyline, the dialogue and the acting. Before I Go To Sleep’s plot twist is suspect, yet it will certainly take viewers by surprise and, therefore, like Trance, will keep audiences thinking long after the film has finished.

PG’s Tips

Review – Joe (15) [2014]

Joe - title banner2

Star Rating: 3.5/5

Director:

  • David Gordon Green – George Washington, Pineapple Express, Your Highness, Manglehorn

Cast:

  • Nicolas Cage – Leaving Las Vegas, Face/Off, Season of the Witch, Left Behind
  • Tye Sheridan – The Tree of Life, Mud, Dark Places
  • Gary Poulter
  • Ronnie Gene Blevins – A Beautiful Life, Kiss the Abyss, The Dark Knight Rises, Then There Was
  • Anna Niemtschk

Music Composer:

  • Jeff McIlwain – Snow Angels, The Sitter
  • David Wingo – George Washington, Take Shelter, The Sitter, Mangelhorn

Whatever happened to the acting career of Nicolas Cage? In 1996, he won an Oscar for Leaving Las Vegas and in 2003 he was nominated for an Oscar for Adaptation., so Cage clearly can act. But since starring in the reboot of The Wickerman in 2006, Cage seemingly set his career on fire with laughable performances in critic kick-bags, such as Ghost Rider I & II, Knowing, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Season of the Witch and Drive Angry, to name six from the catalogue. Therefore, upon Joe, the question was: could Cage’s career sink any lower or was going to (finally) rise from the ashes?

Joe (Nicolas Cage) giving some good, worldly advice to young Gary (Tye Sheridan).

Joe (Nicolas Cage) giving some good, worldly advice to young Gary (Tye Sheridan).

Joe is an indie drama set in the rural, Deep South of America, and is an adaptation of Larry Brown’s 1991 novel of the same title. The film predominantly centres round Joe (Nicolas cage), an ex-convict who runs a business demolishing trees for development sites. One day, Gary (Tye Sheridan), a teenager new to the area, finds Joe and asks if he and his father, Wade (Gary Poulter), can work for him as they need money. Joe agrees, but soon discovers that Wade is an alcoholic with a dreadful character. Upon realising Wade’s ways, Joe takes on the mantle of a father figure for Gary.

Joe is a very decent raw and grisly film about poverty in the Deep South, and about ruin and redemption in general. In a similar way to Mud (also starring Tye Sheridan, plus the reborn Matthew McConaughey), not a lot happens (and what does happen is a tad predictable). But the dialogue in Joe is fantastic and the acting is superb across the board.

Wade (Gary Poulter), Gary's alcoholic father, looking like the homeless man he was in real life (until it was sadly cut short a few months after filming ended).

Wade (Gary Poulter), Gary’s alcoholic father, looking like the homeless man he was in real life (until it was sadly cut short a few months after filming ended).

Nicolas Cage shows us that he is more than just a mercenary willing to cash in on his name. For once, Cage looks like he actually wanted to get up in the morning for filming, as there is more to him in a role than merely a bland expression, a monotone for a voice, and an occasional half-hearted smile to make him your average, likeable guy (as if anyone was going to believe that Nicolas Cage was your ‘average Joe’). In Joe, Cage’s southern accent is refreshingly real, and his grizzled face reflects a man constantly holding back his pent up rage in order to stay on the right side of the law. Moreover, the way Cage’s character takes Gary under his wing is wonderful to watch and enables viewers to empathise with Joe, despite Joe otherwise being rough-around-the-edges, with a drink-driving habit and a history of violence. (If anything, it would have been nice to learn where this violent streak comes from and to find out more about Joe’s background.)

But it is not just Cage that is wonderful to behold in Joe. Like in Mud, Tye Sheridan again demonstrates that he has a long acting career ahead of him. Here, Sheridan performs magnificently as a teenager willing to work hard to put bread on the table for his family, since his father won’t do it. And, speaking of his father in the film, Gary Poulter’s performance, as the horrible alcoholic family-beater, is brilliant and worryingly realistic. What makes Poulter’s performance even more remarkable is that he was not even an actor by trade: he was a hobo! (The casting of a non-actor is not surprising for a David Gordon Green film as the director regularly picks locals for roles in his movies.)

Gary speaking with Willie-Russell (Ronnie Gene Blevins). There is a reason why he has a scar under his right eye and Willie-Russell wants revenge against the man who did it.

Gary speaking with Willie-Russell (Ronnie Gene Blevins). There is a reason why he has a scar under his right eye and Willie-Russell wants revenge against the man who did it.

However, it is not just the acting and dialogue that is fantastic in Joe, since the cinematography is equally good and fitting. From the broken homes (metaphorically and literally); to the trucks people drive; to the dirtiness and dusty nature of the region, the rural poverty of the Deep South and the type of people who inhabit it are well depicted. No-one in Joe personifies the place and the complexities of living in such a place more than Nicolas Cage’s character.

Over-all, Joe is a solid film that is very realistic representation of the Deep South of America. The movie may have little by way of action and plot-twists. Nevertheless, one can easily engage with the characters in the film, not least due to the dialogue and the vivid performances from the cast. Surprisingly, this includes Nicolas Cage; for in Joe he reminds us that his Oscar win and nomination, all those (many) years ago, were no flukes and that truly he can act. It might be a little early to say that Cage’s renaissance has begun. But maybe, just maybe, Cage will use Joe (as Matthew McConaughey did with The Lincoln Lawyer and Mud) as a springboard to re-launch his career.

PG’s Tips

Review – The Wolf of Wall Street (18) [2014]

The Wolf of Wall Street - title banner

Star Rating: 3.5/5

Director:

  • Martin Scorsese – Goodfellas, The Departed, Shutter Island, Sinatra

Cast:

  • Leonardo DiCaprio – Titanic, The Departed, Inception, The Revenant
  • Jonah Hill – Superbad, Moneyball, 21 & 22 Jump Street
  • Margot Robbie – Neighbours, About Time, Focus, The Big Short
  • Matthew McConaughey – Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, The Lincoln Lawyer, MudInterstellar
  • Jean Dujardin – The Clink of Ice, A View of Love, The Artist, The Monuments Men
  • Kyle Chandler – King Kong, The Day The Earth Stood Still, Zero Dark Thirty, Carol
  • Rob Reiner – Sleepless In Seattle, Mad Dog Time, New Girl
  • Joanna Lumley – James And The Giant Peach, Ella Enchanted, Corpse Bride, Squirrels To The Nuts
  • Cristin Milioti – The Sopranos, I Am Ben, How I Met Your Mother, The Occupants
  • Jon Bernthal – Fury
  • Stephen Kunken – Still Alice
  • PJ Byrne – The Gift

Since the financial collapse in the autumn of 2007, there has been almost universal contempt, if not outright hatred for bankers, stockbrokers and anyone involved in high-risk finance-related jobs. The vitriol aimed at such people, as they have taken home huge paycheques and bonuses, has resulted in greater financial regulations. Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street illustrates through Jordan Belfort how crooked the financial system can be without such regulations.

Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey) advising the unknowing Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) on what one has to do to thrive in the industry.

Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey) advising the unknowing Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) on what one has to do to thrive in the industry.

The film is based on the true story of Jordan Belfort, the titular character of the movie, and the book written by Belfort while he was in prison. The movie begins with the young, ambitious Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) getting a job as a stockbroker at Rothschild in the late 1980s. Shortly after joining the bank, his boss, Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey), takes him for lunch and gives him some (un-)sage advice in how to survive in the industry.

Skip forward a few years, and Jordan has founded his own stockbroking company, Stratton Oakmont, with his friend Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill). But Belfort has also taken on board all that his former boss once told him, and lives the fast-life snorting cocaine, paying prostitutes for all kinds of sex, and making fortunes… until the authorities start chasing him and his company for their criminal wrongdoings.

The Wolf of Wall Street is an energetic, chauvinistic and engaging film. Despite its three-hour running time, the movie does not drag, which is extraordinary considering its length, the amount of swearing, and the vulgarity of the central characters involved, chiefly the Wolf, himself.

Leonardo DiCaprio is brilliant as the dishonest Belfort. DiCaprio’s character brings to mind another corrupt financier: the fictional Gordon Gekko of Wall Street (who Belfort claimed was his inspiration). But while Gekko enjoyed the banking industry and making money for money’s sake, Belfort made money to live up the fast-life, and DiCaprio’s eccentric performance demonstrates this. For the vast majority of the film, DiCaprio has his foot on the accelerator, unable to slow down his obsessive greed for more money, drugs, cars, yachts and prostitutes (no wonder DiCaprio needed a break from acting after this).

A drugged-up Belfort having some non-work related fun with his equally drugged-up friend and business partner, Donnie (Jonah Hill).

A drugged-up Belfort having some non-work related fun with his equally drugged-up friend and business partner, Donnie (Jonah Hill).

Yet, for all his (many) flaws, DiCaprio’s character at least has some redeeming qualities; notably, loyalty to his friends. The same, however, cannot be said for Belfort’s repulsive friend Donnie, played by Jonah Hill. Hill’s character is Hill’s archetypal type-cast, since Donnie is foul mannered, foul speaking, grob, misogynistic, and without a compensatory feature in his bones. Hill has seemingly spent his whole career (with the exception of his excellent performance in Moneyball) playing roles that have been building up to this one in The Wolf of Wall Street since the crass and juvenile Superbad was released in 2007. It is no surprise, therefore, that Hill metamorphosis’s into Donnie with gusto and enthusiasm. Unfortunately, Hill’s talents do not mean one can empathise with the disgusting Donnie as a person.

Viewers may, to a much lesser extent, have a similar problem finding a way into Jordan’s wife, Naomi, played well enough by the strikingly attractive Margot Robbie. The Australian Robbie puts on a faultless Brooklyn accent to her credit, but that is the most noteworthy part of her performance (other than her physical beauty) because her role in The Wolf of Wall Street is not taxing. She mainly has to be Belfort’s eye-candy plaything, and her mercenary nature ensures that audiences feel increasingly less empathic towards her whilst Jordan messes about with prostitutes. Still, Robbie does a decent job with what she is given.

Where the film falls is on its moral stance towards Belfort’s practices. It is one thing if the film maturely takes a neutral stance on a subject-matter, as Zero Dark Thirty and Prisoners did on the matter of whether torturing suspects is ever permissible under certain circumstances. But by Scorsese failing to show the effects that Belfort’s unlawful schemes had on his victims, The Wolf of Wall Street unintentionally glorifies Belfort.

Three of the many instances of the stunning Naomi Belfort (Margot Robbie). What would possess a man to pay for prostitutes if he has her to come home to?

Three of the many instances of the stunning Naomi Belfort (Margot Robbie). What would possess a man to pay for prostitutes if he has her to come home to?

In addition, Scorsese’s style of directing is ill-disciplined. At times, the movie relays events in chronological order; at other times, we see flashbacks; at other times, we hear Belfort’s and other characters’ thoughts; at other times, the film is an advert for Belfort with him speaking directly into the camera; and at other times, we see events through Belfort’s eyes, rather than how they really were (which can be remarkably and hilariously different). The result of this inconsistent approach is that one leaves the film unsure as to what Scorsese wanted to achieve.

Over-all, The Wolf of Wall Street is a fantastic and enjoyable film, despite the rampant misogyny and the repugnant characters one endures for three hours. At the centre of it all is the immoral Jordan Belfort, who is played with great vigour and charisma by Leonardo DiCaprio. The film has its flaws in the directing and the stance it takes towards Belfort. Nevertheless, The Wolf of Wall Street demonstrates that people like Belfort, with his life of drugs, debauchery and fraudulent practices, are the reason for why banks, stockbroking agencies and the financial sector in general needed the regulations that are now in force. Now, future-Belforts will be prevented from repeating the Wolf’s ways and that is a positive.

PG’s Tips