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Review – A Monster Calls (12a) [2017]

a-monster-calls-title-banner

Star Rating: 4.5/5

Director:

  • JA Bayona – The Orphanage, The Impossible, Untitled Jurassic World Sequel

Cast:

Music Composer:

  • Fernando Velázquez – The Orphanage, The Impossible, Mama, Crimson Peak, The Invisible Guest

In medieval and early modern times a series of fairy tales came to the fore in European folklore. Based on true or quasi-mythical events, fantastical stories like Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, and The Little Mermaid taught children simple, moral lessons that could be adapted to all eras to help them deal with their problems. JA Boyena’s brilliant, A Monster Calls has a similar moral to its tale.

Conor (Lewis MacDougall) looking at the old yew tree in the distance, which is fabled to be a tree that can cure people.

Conor (Lewis MacDougall) looking at the old yew tree in the distance, which is fabled to be a tree that can cure people.

The film is based on the book by Patrick Ness, which itself was inspired by an idea by Siobhan Dowd. The movie centres round lonely, 12-year-old Conor (Lewis MacDougall). His mother (Felicity Jones) is suffering from a terminal illness and he is being bullied at school. With so much going on in his life, Conor needs to find an outlet. One night, while at drawing at his desk, the old yew tree near his house comes alive (voiced by Liam Neeson) and advises him on how to deal with his problems.

A Monster Calls is a wonderful, yet heart-breaking fantasy drama. It is a folktale in all but name, since it handles very real issues and enables our protagonist to confront the unfairness of his situation in a constructive and tender way. Also, narratively, the movie links every element of the story together. By the end, viewers understand why Conor sees this particular monster, why the Monster has its voice, and the significance of the Monster’s advice, among others. This makes A Monster Calls all the more moving to watch.

Conor with his ailing mother (Felicity Jones), who is trying to reassure Conor that she will be all right.

Conor with his ailing mother (Felicity Jones), who is trying to reassure Conor that she will be all right.

The movie is delivered with great sensitivity. JA Bayona’s directing is top class and the fantasy parts of the film are always appropriate and never over the top. The script is down to earth and delivered with the right amount of anger, compassion, and bluntness, depending upon the scene. The cast must be commended for this; especially, young Lewis MacDougall. He spends much time on screen alone (or with a CGI monster) and he manages to hold the audience’s attention due to the strength of his acting. This is no easy feat (one need only watch Jayden Smith’s awful performance in After Earth to realise how talented an actor must be to keep viewers interested when he/she is alone on screen). If he continues to perform so well in the future, MacDougall will be a star.

But MacDougall is not the only one who shines. Felicity Jones gives a genuine and heart-felt performance, putting a good spin on her diagnosis for her son despite looking worryingly worse as the film progresses. Similarly, Sigourney Weaver performs splendidly as a grandmother locked in a bygone era, trying to come to terms with losing her daughter and having to look after her grandson. Toby Kebbell, too, does a good job as a man who is not the sharpest pencil in the packet academically, but has emotional intelligence and is trying to do his best for Conor, in spite of his character’s impossible predicament.

If the circumstances aren’t enough to touch people, Fernando Velázquez’s music will do enough to induce lumps in viewers’ throats. His score is subtle and tugs at the heart, thereby giving an added dimension to the pain that our protagonists are suffering, particularly Conor.

Conor facing the (Liam Neeson-voiced) Monster, which looks like a cross between Treebeard from Lord of the Rings and Arnie's terminator, urging it to save his mother.

Conor facing the (Liam Neeson-voiced) Monster, which looks like a cross between Treebeard from Lord of the Rings and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator, urging the Monster to save his mother.

Nevertheless, what is it that Conor is actually suffering from? If A Monster Calls has a flaw, it is that the film vocalises Conor’s pain. This comes across as tell-heavy and unnecessary. Just as the timeless fairy tales did not spell out the moral message of their stories, the movie would have been better served if it would have let audiences infer its message. Yet, this is nip-picking as the film should be enjoyed for the wonder that it is.

All-in-all, A Monster Calls is a fabulous, tear-jerking movie. It has a splendid plot, a cast that fulfil their roles superbly, and it finely blends reality and fantasy. What’s more, A Monster Calls has a strong moral message. This is what makes it a twenty-first century fairy tale, comparable to the classic folklore stories. The film offers children a coping mechanism for when they are confronted with a horrible reality.

PG’s Tips

Review – The Big Short (15) [2016]

The Big Short - title banner

Star Rating: 3/5

Director

  • Adam McKay – Step Brothers, The Other Guys, Anchorman I & II

Cast:

Music Composer:

  • Nicholas Britell – Gimme The Loot, The Seventh Fire, A Tale of Love And Darkness, Tramps

In 2007, a financial crisis rocked the world. Akin to the Wall Street Crash of October 1929, tens of thousands of people lost their jobs and homes. Additionally, Lehman Brothers imploded, and the US Congress and the UK Parliament bailed out the rest of the big banks to (allegedly) ensure that the crisis did not worsen. How did it all happen? The Big Short highlights some of the factors.

Dr Michael Burry (Christian Bale), in his office, listening to music whilst working out that the US property market would collapse in 2007.

Dr Michael Burry (Christian Bale), in his office, listening to music whilst working out that the US property market would collapse in 2007.

The Big Short is a dark comedy based on the book with the same title by Michael Lewis. The film follows three separate but parallel stories which reveal the duplicity and the fraud of US bankers and brokers with regard to the US property market; in particular, to the business of subprime mortgages, to the buying and selling of (junk) BB ratings, and to schemes like collateral debt obligations (CDOs). However the film also shows us that were some people who predicted the collapse of the US property market several years in advance, such as Dr Michael Burry (Christian Bale) and Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling). The movie is as much about them trying to take on the big banks (and make billions in the process), as it is about the general fraud that was (is) taking place at every level of the financial sector.

The Big Short is an interesting film. It impressively explains in simplistic terms why the US property and financial markets imploded so spectacularly in 2007/08. The film captures the horror of the upcoming catastrophe by, chiefly, showing us the mind-set and attitude of the people working in Wall Street at the time (and at the present too) in a non-flashy and unglamorous way.

Nevertheless, as interesting as that is (and it is genuinely interesting), the overwhelming majority of the characters in The Big Short are just horrible, greedy and selfish individuals with few (if any) redeeming traits. Of all the people in the film, Steve Carrell’s Mark Baum is the most empathetic and likeable as he has a conscience. Carrell plays well, but his character’s hot-headedness comes across as cartoonish and silly (like it did in Bruce Almighty) when it is supposed to be funny at times and serious at others. Similarly, Christian Bale plays very well and deserves his OSCAR nomination. Yet, his character is weird and socially awkward. This makes him/Michael Burry difficult to root for. (And it does not help that Bale looks miscast in the role. With his huge biceps, one does not expect him to behave weirdly, but rather to don the Bat-gear again and beat every banker and broker to a pulp.)

Mark Baum (Steve Carrell, sitting down in the centre), contemplating the horror about to unravel, as his associates shout at Jared Vallett (Ryan Gosling, sitting down, right).

Mark Baum (Steve Carrell, sitting down in the centre), contemplating the horror about to unravel, as his associates shout at Jared Vallett (Ryan Gosling, sitting down, right).

As for the rest of the cast, their crassness guarantees that bankers and brokers are going to be hated for some time to come yet. Even if one can admire one or two of them for their foresight and intelligence, e.g. Jared Vallett and Charlie Geller (John Magaro), one is almost certainly going to be put off by their arrogance, rudeness and avarice. There is only so much one can endure of watching arseholes behaving so unscrupulously. One becomes bored by it and disinterested in the film’s subject matter; and 130 minutes of it is just too much. That one has seen deplorable bankers and brokers behaving in such an amoral manner before (Wall Street II: Money Never Sleeps, Margin Call and The Wolf of Wall Street) adds to the boredom and disinterest.

Yet, what is worse is the frustration one feels with The Big Short. The film has been billed as a satirical comedy, but to smile wryly only twice throughout the movie is not enough to justify such a billing. Plus, some of the movie’s (alleged) humour is just downright misogynistic. How is a cameo of Margot Robbie (as herself!) naked and in a bathtub explaining subprime mortgages funny? How is having a female stripper explaining the hazards of having loans on multiple houses, whilst lap-dancing, funny? Both just seem wrong in so many ways and not funny.

Charlie Geller (John Megaro, left) and Jamie Shipley (Finn Wittrock, right) speaking with Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt) about making investments.

Charlie Geller (John Megaro, left) and Jamie Shipley (Finn Wittrock, right) speaking with Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt) about making investments.

The sense that the film seems wrong is not just limited to its humour. The directing is extremely ill-disciplined. At certain points, the movie is linear; at other points, it is a music video; at others, the scenes change so suddenly and often, one can get a seizure; and, randomly, the film stops, so we can see a profile of a character or so that a character can face the audience and explain something. All of this makes for quirky viewing at best and ADD at worst. It also begs the question why Adam McKay has been nominated for an OSCAR in the Best Director category, considering that Ryan Coogler has not when the latter directed Creed so much better.

Over-all, The Big Short is a frustrating film. It is not particularly funny and it lacks focus in numerous ways. Yes, the movie successfully elucidates upon why the US property market and the world economy collapsed in 2007-08, which is no mean feat. But by The Big Short merely shouting at its viewers that it all happened because bankers and brokers are two-faced wankers is not only going down a well-trodden path, it also makes for repellent viewing.

PG’s Tips

Review – Birdman (15) [2015]

Birdman - title banner

Star Rating: 4/5

Director:

  • Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarritu – 21 Grams, Babel, Biutiful, The Revenant

Cast:

  • Michael Keaton – Batman, Jackie Brown, Need For Speed, Spotlight
  • Noami Watts – The Ring, 21 Grams, Eastern Promises, Diana, While We’re Young
  • Andrea Riseborough – W.E., Shadow Dancer, Oblivion, Nocturnal Animals
  • Zach Galifianakis – Into The Wild, The Hangover I-III, Due Date, Tulip Forever
  • Emma Stone – Easy AFriends With Benefits, The Help, The Amazing Spiderman I-II, La La Land
  • Edward Norton – American History X, Fight Club, The Illusionist, Sausage Party
  • Amy Ryan – Gone Baby Gone, The Wire, Escape Plan, Goosebumps
  • Lindsay Duncan – Under The Tuscan Sun, Rome, About Time, Alice In Wonderland I & II

Music Composer:

  • Antonio Sanchez

Movie trailers are designed to give viewers a feel for the film and whet one’s appetite for the film. The trailers for Gone Girl and Whiplash were mouth-watering and suggested that those movies were of the highest quality and had to be watched. In contrast, Birdman’s trailer makes the film look unappetising, strange and worth skipping. But the film has been awarded with multiple Oscar nominations. So, is Birdman better than its trailer suggests? Is it deserving of its Oscar nominations?

Zach Galifianakis (Jake) reassuring Riggan (Michael Keaton) and Leslie (Naomi Watts) that the production is going well when it's not.

Zach Galifianakis (Jake) reassuring Riggan (Michael Keaton) and Lesley (Naomi Watts) that the production is going well when it’s not.

Birdman is about Riggan Thompson (Michael Keaton), a former super-hero actor, whose career has been going downhill for two decades. Now, Riggan is trying to rejuvenate his career by writing, directing and acting in a Broadway adaptation of John Carver’s short story What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. The problem is that the show is a shambles, which puts untold pressure on Riggan, who is also battling his own, inner demons.

Birdman is an original film and something different. It may not entertain viewers for its entire 119-minute running time and vast swathes of the movie may seem purposeless. Additionally, some of the storylines go nowhere and the final scene is incongruent with the rest of the movie.

Nevertheless, Birdman is a unique film. Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarritu deserves his Oscar nomination for best director due to his exceptional editing and choreography. He has made Birdman appear as if the whole movie has been filmed in one, super-long shot without any cuts. That is simply an amazing feat, especially as so much happens in each scene and the camera never keeps still. (Although, for viewers the editing feels strangely like being under water for too long. Before long, one is gagging for Iñarritu to make a cut so viewers can take a breath and relax in the knowledge that a scene has ended.)

Yet, Birdman has not been Oscar nominated solely for its directing. It has also been nominated in the cinematography, best actor in a leading role (Michael Keaton), best actor in a supporting role (Edward Norton), best actress in a supporting role (Emma Stone), and best original screenplay categories.

Riggan reading criticism of the production and ignoring the attentions of his sort of girlfriend, Laura (Andrea Riseborough), much to her angst.

Riggan reading criticism of the production and ignoring the attentions of his sort of girlfriend, Laura (Andrea Riseborough), much to her angst.

The cinematography is simple and apt. The movie is set predominantly in the (grotty) behind-the-scenes areas of the Broadway Theatre. It all looks plausible and builds on the shambolic atmosphere of the theatre production because it adds layers of insecurity and stress onto the characters; not least Michael Keaton’s Riggan.

Keaton is outstanding as the volatile, selfish and unstable Riggan. He fully deserves his Oscar nomination. Nonetheless, is Keaton not essentially playing himself in Birdman, the same way Matt Le Blanc did in Friends and Mickey Rourke did in The Wrestler? Riggan last played the fictional superhero Birdman in 1992 and has done little else of note since. How convenient that 1992 is the same year Keaton last played Batman in Batman Returns and has done little else of note since. No, it is not convenient. Yet, because one knows Keaton’s predicament going into Birdman, one genuinely pities Riggan’s situation and hopes that he (like Keaton) does something extraordinary to revitalise his (/their) floundering career(s).

But Keaton is not the only actor who seems to be playing himself in Birdman to acclaim. Edward Norton plays an arsehole with an inflated ego, and behaves in a manner that is difficult to work with. Funny that: Norton has a reputation for being arrogant and a difficult actor to work with. All the same, Norton is great in Birdman. He justifies his Oscar nomination and reminds viewers of his talents that have been lying dormant since his last Oscar nomination back in 1999 for American History X. That Norton plays himself is beside the point.

Not all of the cast, though, play themselves in Birdman. Emma Stone doesn’t. Stone seems like a balanced person in real life. But, in Sam, Stone plays Riggan’s messed up, unstable daughter in terrific and passionate fashion. The scene (part of which can be seen in the trailer) where she vents her frustrations at Riggan earns her her Oscar nomination as audiences feel her pain, the pain she inflicts on Riggan, as well as the guilt she feels afterward for what she says. That is quite an achievement. It also helps that her character is multifaceted and Stone demonstrates this throughout the movie.

Sam (Emma Stone) exploding at her father, Riggan, for being a useless dad. But is this true?

Sam (Emma Stone) exploding at her father, Riggan, for being a useless dad. But is this true?

Alas, the other two main female characters, played by Andrea Riseborough and Naomi Watts, are not as properly fleshed out. It is a shame as both actresses are talented. Moreover, they are not assisted by their storylines being as messy as their changing rooms, which is strange considering how well Birdman is written and choreographed. Yet, if this is Birdman’s major glitch (after the ending), it should be somewhat overlooked. The film deserves its Oscar nomination for best original screenplay as its script is, in the main, highly impressive.

All-in-all, Birdman is a quirky film. It is not the most enamouring of movies and some of the plots go unfulfilled. However, Iñarritu’s style of editing is distinctive and innovative. This, in addition to the exceptional cinematography, acting and script illustrate that Birdman’s trailer is, to some extent, misleadingly unappetising and that the film is worthy of its Oscar nominations.

PG’s Tips

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

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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

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 – The Dark Knight Rises (12a) [2012]

Star Rating: 5/5

Director:

Cinematographer:

Cast:

Music Composer:

Once in a decade, perhaps, are audiences treated to a trilogy wherein the three films are not only worthy of five stars each, but also raise the bar over the movie that preceded it. Ten years ago, it was Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings, which culminated beautifully in the epic The Return of the King. Now, it is the turn of Christopher Nolan and his Dark Knight Legend saga, which has climaxed spectacularly with The Dark Knight Rises.

The monstrous-looking, hulking Bane (Tom Hardy). Ra’s Al Ghul’s successor intends to finish off Gotham once and for all, forcing Batman to come out of his virtual retirement.

Eight years have passed since Bruce Wayne/Batman (Christian Bale) defeated the Joker, killed the District Attorney, Harvey Dent, and disappeared. Since then, Gotham has branded Batman an enemy, after he took responsibility for Dent’s crimes to uphold the reputation of the ‘White Knight.’ Whilst away from his former exploits, Bruce has been a recluse, investing some of his considerable wealth in peaceful nuclear energy and the Wayne Foundation, where he uses the expertise of Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard) to good effect.

However, Gotham now faces a new threat. The League of Shadows has returned and is led by the masked, super-strong Bane (Tom Hardy), who is out to destroy Gotham and Batman with it. After Commissioner James Gordon (Gary Oldman) is wounded trying to take out Bane, leaving the police almost solely in the hands of the young idealist officer, John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), Bruce feels that the time has come to don the bat-gear again. But how will Gotham take to his return? And what will Batman do with the criminal Selina Kyle/Catwoman (Anne Hathaway), who has a mysterious interest in Wayne Manor and Wayne Enterprise?

Rises’ plot might be slow-moving for the first hour and it certainly requires great levels of concentration for the entire 164 minutes; yet, the film is intellectually-stimulating, absorbing and multi-layered. It also builds up to a stunning, well-thought-through climax, ensuring that those who give the movie their full attention will be rewarded.

One of the most satisfying aspects of the storyline is that Nolan cleverly links Rises with Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, the two previous instalments in the series. He does this by making the caped crusader rise to a new mental and physical challenge, which is a direct result of his prior victory over the League of Shadows; and by illustrating the relevance of Batman and Harvey Dent as symbols of hope against injustice and corruption. (Not to mention demonstrating how susceptible the fabrics of society are to implosion when the symbols are smashed.)

Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) wearing her figure-revealing ‘cat’ outfit while she steals what she needs at night and fights her way out of trouble.

Furthermore, Nolan intelligently incorporated genuine, present-day issues and analogies into the previous two films to make them relatable to the epoch. He does it again in Rises. Like in The Dark Knight, he throws in moral and ethical dilemmas here to illustrate just how tough and messy decisions can be for our political leaders (in the war on terror). And, like in Batman Begins, Nolan underlines how sophisticated, scientific technology can be used as weapons. In the first film in the series, it was the dangers of microwave emitters. In the third, it’s the threat posed by ‘peaceful’ nuclear programs (Iran) and what happens should they fall into the wrong hands.

Arguably, Rises lacks a character with the charisma of the Joker, especially as he is Batman’s traditional nemesis. Nevertheless, the astuteness of the plot and the excellence of the cast make up for this absence. Christian Bale superbly reveals the psychological torment and the multifaceted nature of Bruce Wayne that makes all other comic-book based protagonists, such as those in Fantastic Four, The Avengers Assemble and Spiderman appear immature and superficial by comparison; Anne Hathaway looks as eye-catching in tightly-fitted latex as she plays; Michael Caine again gives a touching performance as Alfred, Bruce’s wise fatherly butler, as does Morgan Freeman as the humorous Lucius Fox, the head of Wayne Enterprise; and, lastly, Tom Hardy is terrifying as Bane.

Just as Nolan did with the villains Scarecrow, the Joker and Two-Face in the other movies, he’s turned Bane from a pantomime fool (as was seen in the unwatchable 1997 Batman & Robin) into a complex and sinister character, with a distressing backstory. It is not merely Bane’s brute strength and intelligence that’s scary, it’s also the glint of frightening fanaticism in his eyes which was probably last seen with Ayatollah Khomeini, the late leader of the 1979 Iranian Revolution.

Batman (Christian Bale), with renewed vigour, battling it out with Bane to save Gotham from destruction.

While the actors do their parts splendidly, so too do the special effects team and Hans Zimmer. The effects look so real, viewers have to remind themselves that CGI was used. Similarly, the score may not be as grand or uplifting as the one composed by Howard Shore for The Lord of the Rings; nonetheless, the dark disposition of Rises entails that Zimmer’s gothic-style music is apt and augments the scenes exponentially.

Over-all, The Dark Knight Rises is an engrossing and special conclusion to an exceptional trilogy. Christopher Nolan has transformed the Batman story from a joke into a dark and very human tale that has relevance to the current era, making all other comic-book based movies seem light and casual in contrast. Once more, Nolan has used intelligence and a phenomenal cast to outdo himself in the same way that Peter Jackson did almost a decade ago. Heaven knows, it might be another ten years before we see a series of such brilliance again.

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Review – Warrior (15) [2011]

Star Rating: 3.5/5

The trailer for Warrior gives the movie the air of another-The Fighter. The comparison is quite natural; both films appear, ostensibly, to be about fighters in a ring. But for many reasons Warrior cannot be equated with the excellent The Fighter.

Tess (Jennifer Morrison) with her husband, Brendan (Joel Edgerton), discussing the idea of him fighting again.

Warrior is about two estranged and very different brothers, Brendan (Joel Edgerton – Animal Kingdom, Wish You Were Here, Zero Dark Thirty) and Tommy (Tom Hardy – Bronson, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, This Means War), who compete in a mixed martial arts competition. Brendan is a former fighter, but now married to the pretty Tess (Jennifer Morrison – Mr. & Mrs. Smith, Star Trek, Knife Fight), and a high-school teacher by trade. He and his wife are struggling with debts, and the bank is threatening to evict them from their home. Such is their plight, Brendan hires a personal trainer, Frank (Frank Grillo – Minority Report, Mother’s Day, End of Watch), and returns to the ring to make some money.

Tommy enters the competition for different reasons. Tommy has returned home from army duty in Iraq, and needs to be cleaned up from his pill-taking, alcoholic lifestyle. Using his now-sober father, Paddy (Nick Nolte – The Thin Red Line, Hotel Rwanda, The Gangster Squad), who was a boxer in his day, as his trainer, Tommy gets in shape for the competition.

Whilst simple, Warrior’s plot is (painfully) slow. The film is 140 minutes long, and it could feel a lot longer for those who become bored with the movie’s sluggish pace. Also, the last hour becomes predictable and cliché. Some thought that The Fighter became ‘too Hollywood’ by the end. There might be some truth in that; nevertheless that movie is based on a true story, so it cannot, to an extent, be helped. This is not the case for Warrior, meaning it has no excuse for becoming cliché.

Brendan making his comeback in the ring.

Moreover, there are inconsistencies in the storyline, which become ridiculous during the fighting scenes. The background of the main characters, despite being hinted at often, is also (irritatingly) not explained. By the end of the movie, one is no closer to understanding why the brothers became estranged from each other, and their father.

Warrior’s storyline may have its flaws, but the dialogue is very well written and feels realistic. This is aided by the main actors delivering strong and convincing performances. As Brendan, Joel Edgerton does a fine and consistent job, playing a level-headed and resilient man, despite his understandable stresses. No-one would realise that Edgerton is Australian either from this performance, as his soft Pittsburgh accent remains intact throughout the film.

Similarly, no-one would know that Tom Hardy is English from Warrior. As Tommy, Hardy admirably plays a troubled, insecure and aloof individual, who gets through his days by drinking and taking drugs. Tommy may not be a kind character, but the way he walks with his head down, and the dark circles under his eyes are indicative of his internal difficulties.

It is a shame for Hardy (and Edgerton for that matter) that their characters’ backgrounds are not dealt with, because that would have, perhaps, enhanced their respective characters from two-and-a-half to three dimensions. Furthermore, for Hardy, playing a drug addict draws (unfair) parallels with Christian Bale’s Oscar-winning performance in The Fighter. In this proxy fight before they go head-to-head in The Dark Knight Rises, as Bane and Batman, respectively, it is the latter who comes out on top. This is because Hardy has a less-challenging role as the lazy, slurring stoner, whilst Bale played the demanding crazy, brimming-with-energy crack addict.

The leading actors give worthwhile performances in Warrior, and the same can be said for the supporting cast, particularly Nick Nolte and Jennifer Morrison, even if they vary slightly in quality. Nolte, playing a reforming alcoholic who has found Jesus, plays very well when on screen. When he shows emotion, one does genuinely empathise with Paddy’s predicament (even if he has brought most of his problems upon himself). Surprisingly, one does not feel similarly vis-à-vis Morrison’s character, Tess. This is partly because Tess has not been given much personality, and because Morrison doesn’t make one feel the desperate nature of Tess’s situation.

The younger brother, Tommy (Tom Hardy), at the tournament. His muscular frame suggests that he’s ready to take on anyone.

Lastly, director Gavin O’Connor (Tumbleweeds, Miracle, Pride & Glory) has put Warrior together quite well. The scenes flow smoothly one after the other, but the choice of music is perplexing. For much of the first half of the film, there is little music (which is fine); yet, the second half is filled with a bizarre mix of standard boxing music and a Beethoven symphony. Beethoven and martial arts are a curious mix.

All-in-all, Warrior is an agonisingly slow film and pitiably cliché. It has acting of great quality, but by not elucidating upon the characters properly O’Connor misses the chance for his movie to be potentially nominated for awards. The Fighter had no such deficiencies. One nil to Batman.

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