Tag Archives: movie

Review – It: Part One (15) [2017]

Star Rating: 2.5/5

Director:

  • Andy Muschietti – Mama, It: Part II

Cast:

  • Bill Skarsgard – Anna Karenina, Victoria, Allegiant, Emperor
  • Jaeden Lieberher – St Vincent, The Confirmation, The Book of Henry, Low Tide
  • Jeremy Ray Taylor – Alvin and the Chipmunks, Geostorm
  • Finn Wolfhard – Stranger Things, Dog Days
  • Chosen Jacobs – Hawaii Five-0, Cops and Robbers
  • Jack Dylan Grazer – Me, Myself & I, Beautiful Boy
  • Wyatt Oleff – Someone Marry Barry, Guardians of the Galaxy I & II
  • Nicholas Hamilton – Strangerland, Captain Fantastic, The Dark Tower, Stream
  • Owen Teague – Contest, Echoes of War, Cell, Bloodline, The Empty Man
  • Jackson Robert Scott

Music Composer:

  • Benjamin Wallfisch – The Escapist, Hours, Hidden Figures, Annabelle II, Blade Runner 2049

Stephen King is a prolific author. To date, he has written 54 novels and over 200 short stories, many of which have been adapted for the screen. Predominantly, King has specialised in the horror genre, as The Shining, Misery and Salem’s Lot (to name but three) attest. Nevertheless, throughout his novels, King’s stories lose their horror. It is another example of this. Why is that?

Bill (Jaeden Lieberher, right) hands his brother, Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott, left), a boat that he has made for him. It will be the last time Bill sees his brother.

It: Part One is about Pennywise the Clown (Bill Skarsgard), who hides in the drains of Derry, a small town in Middle America, and kidnaps children. One day, a young boy called Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott) goes missing. This leads his brother, Bill (Jaeden Lieberher), to round up his friends to find out what happened.

It has a very disturbing premise and the opening sequence holds true to that. But it does not take long for the disturbing elements of the movie to lose their scariness. In his book, On Writing, Stephen King stresses the importance of ‘situation’ in his stories; for example, what if vampires invaded a small village in New England (Salem’s Lot)? Or what if someone wakes up after a car accident to find himself/herself tied to a bed and being cared for by a psycho in the middle of nowhere (Misery)? These are terrifying premises. However, after a while, the audience become immune to the horror. The same is true for It. Very soon into the film’s (bloated) 135-minute run time the clown/It no longer seems as scary as he did at the start.

It does not help that Pennywise becomes silly and comical as the movie wears on. Indeed, this is symptomatic of It as a whole. The movie’s tone is inconsistent. It wants to be scary, but seemingly every time the film tries to be scary one of the characters throws in a joke. This ruins any chance of tension, which is essential for audiences to feel fear.

Bill (centre), with his group of friends, looking through reels of films on a projector. What they see, horrifies them.

Then again, even if the characters did not make jokes at the wrong times, viewers still would not have got the chance to feel afraid due to Benjamin Wallfisch’s score. It is so overbearing and it rams down one’s throat what director Andy Muschietti wants one to feel. No doubt, he wants his audience to feel scared. But this is not the way to do it. He should have created situations for the characters wherein one feels that they are in danger. This would have induced fear naturally into viewers. Then, the music would have enhanced the fear. But when there is nothing to be scared of, viewers cannot feel afraid. Music (however loud) cannot change that.

It has many problems. Yet, that is not to say that it has no redeeming features either. One, the late-1980s setting of this small, Middle American town is authentic. King writes a lot about Middle America in his books and It captures the spirit of his work in its aesthetics.

Two, some elements of the horror in the film are genuinely unnerving. Alas, these have nothing to do with Pennywise/It. Still, though, they are unsettling. Muschietti should have combined these with the (supposed) horrors of Pennywise/It. Then, the film would have been chilling.

Pennywise the Clown/It (Bill Skarsgard) ready to bounce on his next victim with a red balloon.

And, three, the acting is decent. The acting is done in the main by child-actors and Bill Skarsgard, and they do their best with the (limited) script that they have been given. But they cannot save the film. The dialogue, the plot and the film’s sense of timing are too poor for that.

All-in-all, It: Part One is a disappointing movie. The film has its qualities, not least in its terrifying premise. But, like in so many of Stephen King’s stories, It cannot maintain the terror of its premise throughout the duration of the movie. The film becomes laughable long before the end. That there are more funny jokes in It than sensations of fear underline that the movie is not scary enough.

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Review – Dunkirk (12a) [2017]

Star Rating: 4/5

Director:

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

Cast:

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

Music Composer:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Star Rating: 3/5

Director:

  • Trey Edward Shults – Krisha

Cast:

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

Music Composer:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Star Rating: 2/5

Director

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

Cast:

Music Composer:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Star Rating: 2.5/5

Director:

Cast:

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

Music Composer:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Review – Denial (12a) [2017]

denial-title-banner

Star Rating: 4/5

Director:

  • Mick Jackson – The Bodyguard, Volcano, Temple Grandin

Cast:

Music Composer:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Review – Arrival (12a) [2016]

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Star Rating: 4/5

Director:

  • Denis Villeneuve – Prisoners, Sicario, Untitled Blade Runner film

Cast:

Music Composer:

  • Johann Johannsson – Prisoners, The Theory of Everything, Sicario, The Mercy

Aliens invading Earth is not an original idea. Since 1996, there has been an overabundance of alien invasion movies. From the entertaining (Independence Day I and Men in Black I); to the risible (Mars Attacks! and Battlefield Earth); to the Tom Cruise saves the day flicks (War of the Worlds, Oblivion and Edge of Tomorrow); to a board game adaptation (Battleship, starring deserved Golden Raspberry winner Rihanna); to comic book adaptations (The Avengers I and Man of Steel); to the dull (Battle: LA and Independence Day II), audiences have seemingly seen it all when it comes to this genre. So how can Arrival differentiate itself and stamp its own mark?

One of the twelve UFOs. This one has stopped in rural Montana, with beautiful fields and mountains for scenery.

One of the twelve UFOs. This one has stopped in rural Montana, with beautiful fields and mountains for scenery.

Arrival is based on the short story by Ted Chiang. Twelve UFOs (shaped like giant contact-lenses) station themselves on random locations in the world. Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) of the US military asks Louise (Amy Adams), an expert linguistics lecturer, to use her philological skills to help the US government. Louise agrees and together with Ian (Jeremy Renner), a scientist, they try to work out what the aliens are saying, why they have come, and what their intentions are.

Concurrently, Louise keeps thinking of her daughter, Hannah. Somehow, Louise’s interactions with Hannah have a link to the aliens. But what is it?

Arrival is an interesting and original sci-fi film. Unlike the movies listed above, this one has no action sequences. Indeed, it is anti-action and does not depend on mass special effects either. Rather, the movie stresses the need for dialogue between the humans and the great other. This is most refreshing as guns, explosions, and the annihilation of aliens has long since become a sci-fi trope.

The stress for dialogue also enables viewers to comprehend the nature of our own languages and how they have shaped societies, which is interesting. Furthermore, the film gives us insight into a lost past in which peoples who had no common language made peace and worked with one other: for example, when the Spanish and Portuguese invaded Latin America in the late-fifteen century, and when the British began forging an empire in India in the seventeenth century. (Granted, the Spanish, Portuguese and British killed their fair share of the indigenous populations. But they still had to communicate and work with those they didn’t kill.)

Louise (Amy Adams) looking up in awe at the aliens. Her big blue eyes are so expressive and hint at a plethora of emotions running through her to add depth to her character.

Louise (Amy Adams) looking up in awe at the aliens. Her big blue eyes are so expressive and hint at a plethora of emotions running through her to add depth to her character.

Yet, as interesting as it is watching humans trying to work a new language, it is not particularly stimulating. At times, it is like watching someone untie a bunch of tangled wires or put together a complex, multi-piece puzzle. Both of which are fascinating, but become tedious after a while. Arrival does, however, do its best to keep viewers attentive. Principally, this is done by Forest Whitaker’s character (repeatedly) urging Amy Adams/Louise and Jeremy Renner/Ian to find out the intentions of the aliens because the US, Chinese, Russian and Sudanese(?) governments are preparing to launch military assaults on the UFOs/aliens. It is a good method, but one that becomes cheap and wearisome after a while.

Moreover, Arrival’s ending has two elements: one is very clever and satisfying; the other, though, streams into wishful thinking. This leaves audiences with a peculiar feeling. One wants to praise the finale, yet one cannot help but feel that it weakens the film as most of mankind (realists) understand that international diplomacy does not work the way the movie illustrates; self-interest being one of the many reasons for this.

But for all the plot’s problems, the actors perform well; especially, Amy Adams. Her character is multifaceted since Louise is witty, successful and hardworking, but also insecure and in grief. The pressure of trying to understand the Alien’s language rapidly gets at her, as well, and the way it manifests itself makes for curious viewing.

Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) telling Louise and Ian (Jeremy Renner) to find out why the aliens have come and what they want. And fast. Otherwise, there will be war.

Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) telling Louise and Ian (Jeremy Renner) to find out why the aliens have come and what they want. And fast. Otherwise, there will be war.

Unusually, the male characters are marginalised. Normally in Hollywood, it is the other way round. But Arrival has smartly inverted this cliché. Renner’s character/Ian is a good support for Louise and they work well together. Whitaker’s character/Colonel Weber is less so. He has one purpose and it is a relief that his character does not stray into the puffed-up general bad-guy trope, like Steven Lang’s villainous army man in Avatar. This is a good thing too for two reasons: one, Whitaker/Weber is not a villain (on the contrary, he is just a man who is afraid of the unknown); and, two, it helps to make Arrival something different.

Arrival is a brave and admirable alien invasion drama. It is distinctive as it refuses to go down the action and CGI route. Instead, it relies on its characters and the quest for dialogue and peace. The movie achieves this with success. For sure, the movie has issues, notably its ending. Nevertheless, Arrival must be commended. It stamps its own mark in a genre that has otherwise become generic and braindead.

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