Category Archives: Indie

Review – The Falling (15) [2015]

The Falling - title banner

Star Rating: 4/5

Director:

  • Carol Morley – The Alcohol Years, Edge, Dreams Of A Life

Cast:

  • Maisie Williams – Game of Thrones, Heatsroke, The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea
  • Maxine Peake – Shameless, Edge, The Theory Of Everything, Hamlet
  • Florence Pugh
  • Anna Burnett – Ripper Street
  • Greta Scacchi – Baltic Storm, Ways To Live Forever, AD The Bible Continues, War and Peace
  • Morfydd Clark – Madame Bovary, The Call Up, Love & Friendship
  • Joe Cole – Now Is Good, A Long Way Down, Pressure, Callow In Their Eyes
  • Rose Caton – Last Knights
  • Monica Dolan – Eye In The Sky
  • Ellie Bamber – Nocturnal Animals

Music Composer:

  • Tracy Thorn

Adolescence is a tricky period in one’s life. One experiences changes in the body while having to deal with the stresses of trying to achieve good grades at school and appeasing one’s peers who may (or may not) be at a more advanced stage in their hormonal growth. Carol Morley’s The Falling deals with some of the issues that many girls go through as part of their adolescence.

Best friends, Abby (Florence Pugh) and Lydia (Maisie Williams) lying on the grass in their school uniforms, drawing a tree.

Best friends, Abby (Florence Pugh) and Lydia (Maisie Williams) lying on the grass in their school uniforms, drawing a tree for their art class.

The film is based in a village in England in 1969 and centres round Lydia (Maisie Williams). She lives with her agoraphobic mother (Maxine Peake) and her ill-educated brother (Joe Cole) in a small, rundown house. While Lydia’s life is not great, she has a good group of friends at a private, all-girls school. One of whom, Abby (Florence Pugh), is exploring her sexuality.

However, as Lydia is coming to terms with her developing body, she begins fainting inexplicitly. Soon, Lydia’s friends start fainting too. But the school administration does not take the matter seriously, not believing that it is an epidemic. Lydia tries her hardest to convince the administration that something is wrong with her and her friends.

The Falling is an innovative and interesting movie that has been well directed by Carol Morley. On a small budget, she has put together a solid film with a fine balance of charm and sincerity. Devoid of special-effects en masse, Morley relies on cinematography to create the wonderful ambiance of a repressive all-girls high school in a small, provincial area, with some odd sorts of people (and behaviour) that can be the norm in such communities in 1960s England or even today.

Eileen (Maxine Peake) smoking. She is Lydia's hair-dresser mother who suffers from Agorophobia.

Eileen (Maxine Peake) smoking. She is Lydia’s hair-dresser mother who suffers from Agorophobia.

Other elements of The Falling that work in Morley’s favour are the dialogue and the acting. Both are very good, honest and plausible. One can imagine (in the main) adolescent girls, and the adults that surround them, behaving in the manner that the film portrays. In the lead role, Maisie Williams is terrific and captivating to watch. Like Arya Stark, her character in Game of Thrones, her character in The Falling is strong-willed and tenacious (if more vulnerable, messed up and curious). But Williams, here, gives a more rounded performance as Lydia is more vulnerable, messed up and curious than Arya Stark is ever likely to be.

The rest of the cast are not given the time or detail afforded to Lydia/Williams’s character. Nonetheless, they all play their roles strongly and with a genuine naturalness that is highly believable.

Yet, for all The Falling’s genuineness and believability, it is a strange film. Its central premise has echoes of the hysterical contagion/the June Bug Epidemic that affected an American textiles factory in 1962; only, The Falling probably exaggerates the issue. Curiously, the fainting syndrome in the movie becomes so normal (and repetitive) that characters and audiences alike fail to bat an eyelid after a while. This is an abnormal reaction because the normal response to seeing someone faint is either to run over to the person who has fainted, or to call for help/an ambulance.

Lydia looking terrible, haunted even, as she tries to convince her teachers that the fainting epidemic is real and that she and her friends are not making it up.

Lydia looking terrible, haunted even, as she tries to convince her teachers that the fainting epidemic is real and that she and her friends are not making it up.

This leads on to the main issue at the heart of the film: is the fainting an epidemic among the girls? Is it something celestial or paranormal? Or is it just frustrated, adolescent girls crying out for attention (and an outlet) in a repressive environment? These questions are very pertinent as they can give viewers an insight into the stresses that adolescent girls often endure in high school. That is if one does not focus too much on certain, side-matters in the film that are remain ambiguous right to the end. Or if one can get past the perplexing, out of sync music. Or if one does not get an epileptic fit from the fast-flicking flashbacks that are unfathomable and add nothing to the plot. Nevertheless, if one can ignore these issues, one can greatly enjoy The Falling.

All-in-all, The Falling is an entertaining film in a stimulating and peculiar way. The movie may not resolve all its issues. But it is well-shot, has wonderful cinematography, and has marvellous acting to go with a good, solid script that brings out the best in Maisie Williams. Where The Falling succeeds most is in showing viewers the problems and pressures that most teenage school-girls face, even if it is in an environment and in a time slightly removed from conventional stories on the subject. Carol Morley must be credited for this because her film is original and demonstrates the dangers of repressing adolescent girls too much.

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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.

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Review – Concussion (15) [2014]

Concussion - title banner

Star Rating: 2/5

Director:

  • Stacie Passon – Strange Things Started Happening

Cast:

  • Robin Weigart – Deadwood, The Sessions, Explosion
  • Julie Fein Lawrence – Farewell Miss Fortune
  • Maggie Siff – Then She Found Me, Nipp/Tuck, Mad Men, Sons of Anarchy
  • Johnathan Tchaikovsky – Descent, Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs
  • Claudine Ohayon – Flushed

Music Composer:

  • Barb Morrison

In any artistic medium, there is a simple formula: show don’t tell. Invariably, whenever film directors, artists or writers show audiences the message they wish to portray in the medium, it has a far greater emotional weight upon audiences than if the same message were recanted by someone. Stacie Passon sadly does not appear to have taken this formula on board and her interesting debut film, Concussion, suffers because of it.

Kate (Julie Fein Lawrence) with  her wife, Abby (Robin Weigart), after Abby gets hit by a baseball.

Kate (Julie Fein Lawrence) with her wife, Abby (Robin Weigart), after Abby gets hit by a baseball.

Concussion is a low-budget, indie drama set in present day, up-market, suburban New York. The movie starts with Abby (Robin Weigart) getting hit by a baseball in the side of the head. She suffers minor concussion from it.

Upon waking up, Abby, an interior designer/decorator by trade, who spends most of her time at the gym or in Pilates classes, becomes disillusioned with her life; especially, with regards to her loveless, lesbian marriage to Kate (Julie Fain Lawrence). With the help of her co-worker, Justin (Johnathan Tchaikovsky) Abby decides to become a high-class lesbian escort.

Concussion’s plot is simple, grounded and (almost solely) revolves round Abby, whom audiences can empathise with to a degree. In addition, the acting is decent, the setting is apt, and Passon treats the storyline’s subject matter in a non-judgmental way. This is commendable as it would have been easy to turn Concussion into a whore bashing exercise or a gratuitous light-porn film (like the four-hour dirge Nymphomaniac or the impressive Blue Is The Warmest Colour).

Abby being gentle with one of her clients, Lisa (Claudine Ohayon).

Abby being gentle with one of her clients, Lisa (Claudine Ohayon).

Although, strangely, by Passon treating the subject-matter with such maturity, she brings up some other issues. The thought of working/non-working women going off during the day to pay for sex suggests that people have good reason not to trust their wives, which is both worrisome and (hopefully) wrong… Unless Passon believes this issue to be more common than is generally known.

The subject-matter might be dealt with sensibly; however, apart one instance near the end of the film, Concussion lacks depth in its plot developments. Part of the problem is that the film does more telling than showing. For example, viewers are told that Abby was hit by a baseball and suffers concussion, but we are not shown either of these. Likewise, viewers are told that Abby is very involved with her local synagogue, yet we don’t see her ever go to synagogue or do anything remotely Jewish-related.… Hang on a moment, Passon herself is Jewish and is in a lesbian relationship. Is Abby merely Passon’s avatar? Or is Concussion Passon’s way of illustrating her marital problems and/or her (repressed?) sexual desires?

Regardless of what Passon’s motive behind Concussion might have been, it is understandable that Passon cannot show everything due to budgetary constraints. Nevertheless, the consequences of showing audiences too little is that the extent to which audiences can become emotionally invested in the characters is frustratingly limited; especially, as there is clearly more to the characters than is divulged.

Abby with another one of her clients, Sam (Maggie Siff).

Abby with another one of her clients, Sam (Maggie Siff).

Abby, her clients and Kate probably all have interesting back-stories. And it would have been intriguing to gain a deeper understanding as to why they are the way they are; why Kate shows Abby little love; and why each of Abby’s clients come to her, as they all have their reasons. Yet, (with the exception of Sam, played by Maggie Siff), all of these details and depths are sadly missing from the film; to its detriment.

Over-all, Concussion is a frustrating and disappointing movie. The film’s premise has not been touched upon before and the movie deals with it in an adult manner. It also has a cast that buys into the subject-matter. All the same, Stacie Passon unfortunately misses the boat on Concussion. The film’s Achilles-heal is that viewers are unlikely to care about the characters and their situations. This is because the movie does too much telling and not enough showing.

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Review – Transcendence (12a) [2014]

Transcendence - title banner

Star Rating: 3.5/5

Director:

  • Wally Pfister

Executive Producer:

Cast:

Music Composer:

  • Mychael Danna – Girl,Interrupted, Fracture, Capote, Moneyball, The Captive

In 1948, George Orwell wrote the classic 1984 in which he (implicitly) warned of the dangers of a country using technology to the full to create a totalitarian state. Many of Orwell’s ideas are now part of everyday life. States can monitor an individual’s movements by CCTV surveillance, by their mobile phone activities, by their credit card history, etc… and with a computer database at the tip of the state’s fingers to bring such information when required.

Dr. Will Caster (Johnny Depp) with the swagger of a scientist on the verge of something special, and after his shooting before his consciousness is wired up into the computer.

Left, Dr. Will Caster (Johnny Depp), with the swagger of a scientist on the verge of something special; and, right, sickly after being shot, just prior to his consciousness being wired up to the computer.

The above may be very worrying. But the saving grace is that a person is still needed to activate such technology; for technology cannot operate on its own. However, what if technology could operate on its own? Or, rather, what if a human being’s self-awareness were put into a computer? This is the territory that Wally Pfister’s directorial debut film, Transcendence, deals with.

Will Caster (Johnny Depp) is a scientist intent on creating a conscious computer. His research is at an advanced stage, when he is shot by anti-tech terrorists. With his mind fully functional but his body dying, Evelyn Caster (Rebecca Hall), desperate to save her husband and against the advice of Will’s friend Max (Paul Bettany), uploads Will’s consciousness to a computer to keep him alive.

But as soon as Will’s conscience has been uploaded, the question arises as to whether it really is Will in the computer, or if it is something else, especially as transcendent-Will becomes hungry for power. And with all surveillance systems, the internet, and data-records within his control, as well as the ability to advance at a logarithmic rate, what can stop transcendent-Will bending the world to his will?

Transcendence has a complex yet stimulating plot, almost entirely devoid of (headache inducing) action scenes. The film’s language might be tough to follow (although not a prerequisite, it certainly helps to have some knowledge of computer- and nano-science to understand the dialogue). But the idea of whether a soul, in general, can be uploaded into a computer, and the moral risks of technology (possibly) going too far ensure that viewers can appreciate the movie all the same.

Bree (Kate Mara, older sister of Rooney Mara), one of the anti-tech terrorists behind the shooting of Dr. Will Caster.

Bree (Kate Mara, older sister of Rooney Mara), one of the anti-tech terrorists behind the shooting of Dr. Will Caster.

The idea of technology going too far is not a new one, per se. After-all, Orwell spoke of the matter in 1948, and countless science fiction films, like The Terminator franchise, The Matrix Trilogy, i,Robot, and Prometheus have dealt with the subject since (mostly dragging it through the sewers in the process). Yet, Transcendence handles the subject with maturity, and delivers it in quite an original way. The movie may seem far-fetched at first. But the documentary series Through The Wormhole, narrated by (Transcendence’s and Hollywood’s moral compass) Morgan Freeman, shows us the (disconcerting) capabilities of present-day technology. This, in turn, suggests that what happens in Transcendence is not as implausible as it may ostensibly appear.

But to focus solely on the technological angle of Transcendence would be to miss the point of the film. In a twopart interview, Wally Pfister spoke of how Transcendence is a human story at its core. Due to the film’s mature handling of the subject of artificial intelligence, and due to Paul Bettany’s passionate performance, viewers can understand what the director wanted to convey.

However, Pfister’s casting of Johnny Depp and Rebecca Hall in the lead roles almost loses him the human element of the tale. Depp and Hall have little chemistry between them and neither look like they understand the scientific language they engage with throughout the film. At least, Hall believes in her character and puts effort into her role. Depp, on the other hand, (in a non-Captain Jack Sparrow-like role for a change) looks disinterested and half-asleep throughout the movie.

Depp and Hall might be Transcendence’s most noteworthy problems. But the dialogue is not great either (irrespective of the difficult language used). In addition, parts of the plot are given away daftly, and are contrived, and are unexplained; then again, it should be noted that Inception suffered from similar unexplained-plot problems, so maybe such issues are to be expected when a film deals with inexplicable elements.

FBI agents, Joseph Tagger (Morgan Freeman) and Buchanen (Cillian Murphy) giving Evelyn Caster (Rebecca Hall) sage advice on her husband's transcendence plans.

FBI agents, Joseph Tagger (Morgan Freeman) and Buchanen (Cillian Murphy) giving Evelyn Caster (Rebecca Hall) sage advice on her husband’s transcendence plans.

Nevertheless, like Inception, the cinematography in Transcendence is first-rate. From Transcendence, one can see why Christopher Nolan employed Pfister as his cinematographer for many of his movies, including The Prestige, The Dark Knight I-III, and Inception (in which Pfister won his Oscar). Indeed, if Transcendence’s script and acting would have been as good as its cinematography, Pfister would be in line for a directorial Oscar-nomination in 2015.

Over-all, Transcendence is a brave film for a director to make his debut. It is an interesting and thought-provoking movie, with phenomenal visuals and cinematography. Transcendence has its flaws, not least with its plot, its dialogue and its two lead actors. But to some extent, one should overlook these problems and concentrate on the film’s treatment of the possible dangers of modern day/near-future technology. For, like Orwell in 1948, these matters are handled in an ambitious, innovative and refreshingly adult way.

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Review – Her (15) [2014]

Her - header

Star Rating: 4/5

Director:

  • Spike Jonze – Being John Malkovich, Where The Wild Things Are, Pretty Sweet, Choose You

Cast:

Music Composer:

  • Owen Pallett – The Box, The Wait

Over the last two decades, technology has taken on a greater and more controlling part of everyday life for people. From transportation to computers to sophisticated mobile phones, it is almost impossible to imagine a time when mankind lived without technology virtually running our lives. But can technology go further? Can people develop feelings for technology as if it were a complex person? This is what Spike Jonze’s impressive, if strange, indie romantic comedy Her explores.

Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix), looking back in time, remembering when he broke up with his childhood sweetheart Catherine (Rooney Mara).

Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix), looking back in time, remembering when he broke up with his childhood sweetheart Catherine (Rooney Mara).

Her is set in 2025 and follows Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix), a lonely, sad man. By day, Theodore works for a business that transcribes heartfelt messages for people unwilling or unable to speak/write such messages to loved ones; and by night, he plays 3D video games in his room and has phone sex with random women.

Unhappy with the way his life is panning out, especially because he is in the process of divorcing his childhood sweetheart, Catherine (Rooney Mara), Theodore purchases an interactive operating system. Theodore chooses certain personality traits for his operating system and soon forms a relationship with his operating system, which calls itself/herself Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson).

Her is an interesting film. The movie raises some thought-provoking questions as to what constitutes a relationship and whether a relationship needs to have physical elements for it to be emotionally satisfying. At times whilst watching Her, one forgets that Samantha/Scarlett Johansson is not physically there, such is the three-dimensional realness of her character.

Theodore out on a blind date with Amelia (Olivia Wilde).

Theodore out on a blind date with Amelia (Olivia Wilde).

Part of the reason why one subconsciously believes that Samantha/Scarlett Johansson is physically there is because of the depth of her character. Indeed, she has a three-dimensional realness that is both noteworthy and worrying at the same time. But another factor is the strength of the performances of the cast, which is aided by the excellence of the script Jonze has written, the artfulness of the film’s music, and the believability of the futuristic world that has been created.

As ever, Joaquin Phoenix plays magnificently as the odd, socially-inept, reclusive, and commitment-phobic Theodore, trying to find a way out of his own misery. Phoenix spends much of the time on screen by himself, talking to his operating system. Despite this, Phoenix carries the movie with his engagingly sensitive and highly-complicated display in a similar vein to Sandra Bullock in Gravity, and in a different way as James Franco did in 127 Hours.

Similarly, Amy Adams is splendid as Theodore’s odd, unconfident friend, with a failing marriage, and whose career has yet to take off; Scarlett Johansson provides humour, a get-up-and-go attitude, and an intelligence that makes her the envy of any genuine person; and Rooney Mara plays well enough (with the small time she is given) as Theodore’s soon-to-be ex-wife, trying to make sense of her husband’s choice to date an operating system without making the scene look laughable and ludicrous.

Theodore, unable to sleep, so he turns on his operating system to talk with Samanatha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson).

Theodore, lonely and unable to sleep, turns on his operating system to talk with Samanatha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson).

However, what let’s Her down is that it is way too long and (tragically) quite boring. Her’s premise is used up within thirty minutes of its running time. This means that the film’s remaining 96 minutes feels like it goes on and on. This is a real shame, as Her is something genuinely different to what one is so used to watching in romantic comedies.

All-in-all, Her is an original and, in so many ways, is a great film. The acting is brilliant, Jonze’s script is outstanding, the music is wonderfully atmospheric, and the world the movie is set in is realistic and apt. Yet, Her should have been 45 minutes long at the most, rendering the majority of the film tedious and wearisome. Moreover, it is a weird movie that is unlikely to sit well with most viewers. Most conspicuously, Her raises the issues of what constitutes a relationship, and how far one’s relationship with technology can go. Considering how much technology has come (and will continue) to rule people’s lives, this is a troubling thought and operating systems, like Samantha, might not be so hypothetical in the not-too-distant future.

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Review – The Master (15) [2012]

Star Rating: 4.5/5

Director:

  • Paul Thomas Anderson – Boogie Nights, Magnolia, There Will Be Blood

Cast:

  • Joaquin Phoenix – Gladiator, We Own The Night, Her
  • Philip Seymour Hoffman – The Ides of March, Moneyball, A Most Wanted Man
  • Amy Adams – Charlie Wilson’s War, The Fighter, Man of Steel
  • Ambyr Childers – Playback, Crossfire, Gangster Squad
  • Jesse Plemons – Paul, Battleship, Flutter

Tom Cruise and John Travolta are two of the most well-known members of the Church of Scientology. Following the former’s divorce to Katie Holmes earlier this year, the nature of the quasi-religion/cult, founded by L. Ron Hubbard in 1952, was came under media scrutiny, and not without some bad press. Yet, one key element that was not addressed during the Cruise-Holmes divorce was the type of individual who would join such a movement. The Master gives us some ideas in excellent fashion.

Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) looking like he needs to be seen by the men in white coats.

The Master is set during the 1950s, centred round Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix). Freddie is a naval veteran who is yet to find peace with himself after World War II (WWII). He is suffering from a multitude of psychological issues and drinking anything to excess that he can get his hands on.

Randomly, he finds himself aboard a ship that is being borrowed by a movement, called The Cause. There, he finds himself mesmerised by Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), the charismatic leader of the cult, believing that Lancaster has the cure to his problems.

The Master is a 144-minute art-house film with a peculiar atmosphere. The 1950s-style music has been adjusted, weirdly, yet aptly, to make one feel uncomfortable in almost every scene as we explore the nature of this bizarre cult through Freddie’s eyes.

One watches with bewilderment as The Cause’s followers lap up Lancaster Dodd’s (bonkers) ideology, as well as their aggressive reactions to those who dare to question any aspect of the dogma, even if it is illogical and contradictory. Moreover, one sees the 1984-style, brainwashing techniques that some cults adopt not only to allow people to join the movement, but to ensure that they are ‘committed’ to the cause.

Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman) giving one of his fantastic, if crazy, speeches about how one is connected to previous and future existences.

The alarming craziness of The Cause’s ideology makes up for the slowness of The Master and the lack of activity in the plot. The quality of the acting does the same. Joaquin Phoenix delivers a master-class performance as someone suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and alcoholism (paint-thinner and lighter fluid included). He always looks exhausted, distressed, and like he’s about to blow a fuse. Additionally, his speech is consistently slurred, entailing that viewers will believe that Freddie is on the verge of a psychotic breakdown.

Whilst Phoenix is the stand-out performer in the film, the rest of the cast do their roles with equal capability, even if their ones are less challenging. Philip Seymour Hoffman plays exceptionally plausibly as the captivating, yet mad and flawed leader of the cult. Hoffman’s aura and charisma, as Lancaster Dodd, indicates why so many people in 1950s America were drawn to (the self-declared human-deity) L. Ron Hubbard. In addition, Dodd’s magnetic personality hints at how Hubbard managed to found the Church of Scientology and accrue millions of dollars from his followers. That all of this can be encompassed in one performance is testament to Hoffman’s acting skills.

Phoenix and Hoffman dominate The Master, thereby leaving little room for the rest of the cast to showcase their abilities. Nevertheless, Amy Adams plays very well as Lancaster’s wife, whose devotion to the movement is scarily absolute; similar things can be said for Ambyr Childers, who plays as Lancaster’s daughter, and who spends much of the time she is on screen teasing Freddie; and Jesse Plemons does a decent enough job as Lancaster’s son, who ultimately knows that his father is a phoney making it all up as he goes along.

Peggy Dodd (Amy Adams), Lancaster’s wife, appeaing to her husband to do something about Freddie due to his drinking problems.

Much praise should rightly go to the cast. But director Paul Thomas Anderson should also get credit for making The Master look like one is reliving 1950s America. The clothes, the hair-styles and the music all seem to perfectly fit into place. Furthermore, there is no mention of the term ‘Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder’ in the movie. This is because the term did not exist in those days. Still, it would have been easy for Anderson (even if it would have been patronising on the audience) to have had someone in the film state the obvious and make a factual error. After-all, in Gladiator Ridley Scott made Lucilla, the sister of Emperor Commodus, played coincidentally by Phoenix, outlive her brother when in fact she predeceased her brother; and in the 2009 Dorian Gray, Oliver Parker inserted the Suffragettes into the narrative, even though when Oscar Wilde wrote the book in 1890 the Suffragettes had yet to be formed. Anderson, therefore, should be complimented for not falling into such a trap.

All-in-all, The Master is a brilliant, but strange movie. The film might be slow, long and devoid of a linear plot. However, with superb acting and analogies to real-life cults, like Scientology, one is likely to be mesmerised whilst watching the movie from the point of view of the messed-up Freddie. Freddie might have ostensibly little in common with the likes of Tom Cruise and John Travolta but, through Freddie, The Master can give one an understanding for the sorts of people who join cults.

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Review – Rust And Bone (15) [2012]

Star Rating: 3.5/5

Director:

  • Jacques Audiard – Read My Lips, The Beat That My Heart Skipped, A Prophet

Cast:

Music Composer:

In August 2012, London held the Paralympics event. More than anything, the paralympians illustrated that people with crippling injuries can be full of life and can excel in the face of much adversity. Yet, the tournament did not display the hardships that such people face on a daily basis. Rust and Bone does so, and in a particularly gritty and unglamorous way.

Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts) giving his young son, Sam (Armand Verdure), a piggy-back. Ali, however, is not necessary the most responsible of parents.

Rust and Bone is a French film based on the book by Craig Davidson with the same title. The movie centres round Alain (Matthias Schoenaerts), a man of dubious morality, who is seemingly in sole custody of his young son, Sam (Armand Verdure). As Alain is unemployed, he leaves Belgium to go to live with his sister, Anna (Corinne Masiero), in the Antibes, where he hopes to find work. Using his skills as a former bare-fist boxer, he gets a job as a bouncer at a nightclub.

There, Alain meets a drunken Stephanie (Marion Cotillard), a killer-whale stunt trainer. After she falls over and cuts herself badly outside the club, he takes her home. Yet, it is not until Stephanie loses both her legs when a stunt goes horribly wrong that she and him form a close relationship.

Rust and Bone is a 120-minute unhurried, art-house film with a very serious atmosphere. Much of the movie is played out in under-privileged dismal areas, akin to those in Harry Brown. The aesthetics, as well as the silence (with the exception of the loud and brash Katy Perry song, Firework, for the Killer Whale stunts) emphasise the severity of the movie’s tone.

Ali carrying Stephanie (Marion Cotillard) into the sea, following her crippling injury, wherein she had to have her legs amupatated from the knee.

The stark manner of Rust and Bone is reflected in the generally unpleasant characters in the film. Due to a lack of action or intrigue in the plot, the movie relies heavily on the characters, and the relationships that they have with one another, to maintain viewers’ interests. This is not an issue, per se, but as none of the characters are particularly amiable, it is hard for one to truly empathise with their situations.

Alain, for one, is a scummy and untrustworthy individual, with a violent side as well. Indeed, if it were not for his (almost) wonderful treatment toward Stephanie after her injury, Alain would have no redemptive qualities and would be utterly detestable. Despite the nature of Alain’s character, though, credit must go Matthias Schoenaerts. It would have been easy for Schoenaerts to turn Alain into a stereotypical thug. Yet, Schoenaerts doesn’t do this. Rather, he makes Alain unlikeable, but at the same time human, realistic and understandable, which is far from a simple task.

Similarly, Marion Cotillard does a good job as Stephanie, an ordinary girl coming to terms with a crippling injury. Cotillard’s performance in the wheel-chair leaves out nothing, including the struggle of doing something as mundane as making a coffee or going to the bathroom. Cotillard truly makes viewers sympathise with Stephanie’s predicament. Furthermore, and arguably what makes Rust and Bone so unique is that director Jacques Ardiard is not scared to have Stephanie discuss (and perform) sex or swimming in the sea. By doing these, and making Stephanie feel better for it, Audiard demonstrates that Stephanie, and anyone else with a crippling injury for that matter, is a human being. It is a tribute to Cotillard’s skills that she is able to illustrate Stephanie’s feelings so naturally, and without it seeming odd either.

Stephanie looking good and enjoying herself in a nightclub, demonstrating that amputatees know how to have a good time like the rest of us.

Unlike with Schoenaerts and Cotillard, it is hard to overly praise or fault the rest of the cast for their performances. Since the film is dominated by Alain and Stephanie, and how their relationship develops, Armand Verdure, Corinne Masiero and Bouli Lanners (who plays as Martial, Alain’s friend and part-mentor, who is also a gambler of unofficial violent sports among the underclasses) are not given much time on screen. What little we see of them shows us, plausibly, that they are normal people with problems, facing the issues that normal people face, while living in a terrible area.

Over-all, Rust and Bone is a slow-paced and sombre film, but an impressive one in its own right. The movie may not be shot in aesthetically pleasing places, and it may not contain particularly nice characters either. Nevertheless, the film does not do what the authorities of the London 2012 Paralympic games did, and shy away from tackling the harsh realities that arise from crippling injuries. Marion Cotillard’s Stefanie embodies how difficult it can be for people with such injuries to pick themselves up. What’s more, Cotillard’s performance emphasises that a little support from even the most improbable of individuals can help to steer an injured person onto the path of becoming more comfortable with their new and forced lifestyle.

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