Month: April 2017

Lady Macbeth (2017)

Lady Macbeth has always been an intriguing character as she whispers sweet nothings into Macbeth’s ear before he commits an unfathomable sin. This woman for the ages serves as a source of inspiration for Nikolai Leskov’s novel Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District.

Alice Birch reworked Leskov’s novel and William Oldroyd took the lead in directing the 89-minute period drama for the big screen. Although no clear time period is distinguished in the film, it’s clear that it’s set during the Shakespearean-era as the noblemen are addressed as Sirs and there are slaves dotted around the grand manor Catherine (Florence Pugh) finds herself wandering in.

I found the title of Lady Macbeth to be quite ironic when Catherine seems to be anything but, as she doesn’t enjoy the tightening of a corset, or the brushing of her hair as she grunts with displeasure at the maid Anna. (Naomi Ackie) She often finds herself constantly trying to remain awake, and functions pretty much on autopilot.

The titular Lady Macbeth serves as inspiration for Catherine’s character, rather than producing a telling of Lady Macbeth. Catherine finds herself trapped in a loveless marriage and lives with an arrogant and snarling father-in-law. What I did not anticipate was the darker realms that Lady Macbeth delves into as Catherine vies for a happier life. I should have probably anticipated it with the title of Lady Macbeth.

As the loneliness consumes Catherine, she becomes arrogant in her own way as she barks at Anna for staring and even goes as far as assuming control of the manor as her husband and father-in-law attend to different matters.

As I mentioned, Alice Birch reworked the script from the original and (I can only assume this without reading the novel) placed the setting in Great Britain, as well as changing the names to the English sounding counterparts. I imagine this was to make Lady Macbeth more accessible for the moviegoers in the UK. What this allowed William Oldroyd to do is to take in the British countryside, and this really worked with the wind bellowing around Catherine, giving you the shivers as though you are almost stood there with the protagonist.

Birch managed to make the narrative work, as the screen becomes embroiled in a lust-heavy opening 40 minutes as Catherine engages in adulterous behaviour with one of the workers, Sebastian, (Cosmo Jarvis) but then as the film progresses it becomes tense as whether they can keep their relationship a secret, or do the walls have ears? But also Birch began telling an intriguing story as Sebastian and Catherine’s relationship is continually tested.

I believe the narrative structure is helped monumentally by the performance from Florence Pugh in her on screen-debut as from this solitary Catherine, to a menacing, vindictive woman is really helped by the nuanced facial features as she plots and contrives against her new family.

Her subtle movements from the opening to forty to the remaining forty create a worldly difference for the character of Catherine. She becomes enigmatic and grips the screen in every scene she is placed in.

William Oldroyd with Alice Birch’s script has created what is a rather enjoyable period drama. I’d be intrigued to read the novel that serves as the inspiration for Lady Macbeth, especially after really enjoying Justin Kurzel’s imagining of the Shakespearean tradic play. It would be worth seeking out Lady Macbeth solely for Florence Pugh’s incredible performance at the centre of this film. She dominates every scene she appears in and because quite a scary character through the 86 minute runtime.

The Handmaiden (2017)

Although Stoker was stylistically great, coupled with the great performances from Mia Wasikowska and Matthew Goode, it was insignificant when compared to Park Chan-wook’s vengeance trilogy. His most famous piece is probably Oldboy, which has since been remade into a less-than-forgettable Western take on the Korean classic.

The Handmaiden looked as though it was going to be a return to his usual form, with seductive sequences showered throughout the trailers. But what was brilliant was I could not make out what was going to be unravelled in the film. I managed to get to a director’s cut of The Handmaiden, which clocks in at 20 minutes longer than the theatrical release of 145 minutes, but it was clear that Park Chan-wook is back to his usual tricks with The Handmaiden.

The inspiration for this film comes from the Sarah Waters novel Fingersmith, which is set during the Victorian time of London. Park Chan-wook chose to instead have the film set during the Japanese occupation of Korea in the 1930s, but there are still Victorian influences throughout the film, including Hideko’s (Kim Min-hee) constant wearing of gloves.

Park Chan-wook chose to split the film into three sections, which works to some degree, but it does take away some of the anticipation of what is going to unfold through the subsequent parts. As the film opens with Part 1, the Japanese influence is clear as soldiers are seen marching through a poor village, home to Sook-hee (Kim Tae-ri).

Sook-hee is taken to become a maid for Lady Izumi Hideko, who’s home in this lavish estate, controlled by her ominous Uncle Kouzuki. (Cho Jin-woong) The house is rife with Japanese influences throughout, from the sliding doors to the library room sporting zen gardens. Regardless Park Chan-wook manages to give each of the characters enough of a screen presence to tell their own story throughout the three sections, including Count Fujiwara (Ha Jung-woo) as he becomes involved in the story.

I won’t divulge too much information regarding the story as in true Park Chan-wook fashion is quickly descends into the twists that he has waiting for us. But the way in which the screen uncovers these is just fantastic and shows a true master class in the art of story telling.

Stoker had some really enjoyable transitions, including that hair-brushing scene into the grassy wilderness. Chan-wook has continued with this trend, as he manages to beautifully transition a shot into the night sky. Not only these transitions, but his gorgeous set designs made for some beautiful viewing including the grand manor as it experiences a intermittent power outage.

And it has to be said that The Handmaiden is very, very forthright with the eroticism that takes place within the film. It’s not a film that is to be watched with your parents, that’s for sure. But the erotic nature of these scenes do not feel out of place within the film, but rather in-tune with the narrative structure of the story as it progresses. Especially as the strange Uncle Kouzuki houses a antique erotic collection of literature, that is auctioned off to esteemed aristocratic Japanese noblemen.

As I mentioned earlier, it feels as though Park Chan-wook is back to his better work with this, as Stoker had merit but lacked the special something that featured prominently in his previous features. The Handmaiden is unbelievably stylish in what it does with some beautiful shots, but the film is continually backed by the strong cast that feature distinctly throughout the films runtime. I believe this is down the direction that Chan-wook gives the cast with confidence and gives them enough of a screen presence throughout the 160+ minutes for the audience to connect with the strong female leads and the impossible-to-dislike Count Fujiwara.

If you did like Oldboy or any of Park Chan-wook’s other pieces then I would recommend seeking out The Handmaiden due to the lavish set designs throughout, but also it being a really enjoyable way to spend two hours being involved with a story that contains love, treachery and a twist that is undeniably well played out.

Beauty and the Beast (2017)

I hold no dear memories to the animated feature length film of Beauty and the Beast. I vaguely remember watching the animated version, but for the life of me could not remember the story at all and why the beast was cursed, so I may as well have approached it as an entirely brand-new film.

Because of the increase in the quality of CGI-films, Disney have started to adapt their much-loved animated films to live-action features. These reboots were really kick-started with the live-action remake of Cinderella. I didn’t catch that one, but I did catch Jon Favreau’s rather impressive The Jungle Book.

Carrying forward with the reimagining of the Disney Princesses, Bill Condon bought Belle’s story into the 21st century but entirely in live action. Having previous footings within musicals, it seemed like a wise choice to have Condon direct. (Whether Chicago and Dreamgirls are any good, I cannot comment)

Questions were asked about Emma Watson and how good she was going to be in the lead role of Belle, but as the film stretches through it’s runtime, I found the performance very mediocre. But it doesn’t stop there for the casting, as the furniture like Lumiere (Ewan McGregor) and Cogsworth (Ian McKellen) were found to be very mundane too. The standout performance would have to come from LeFou (Josh Gad) and Gaston (Luke Evans) as they also drove the scenes they featured in with their comedic gestures towards one another and the blatant narcissism.

What was impressive was the incredible set design throughout the film, from the incredibly fancy opening ball room dance before the curse is placed, to the small-village feel of Villeneuve as Belle dances around during her opening number. Condon managed to create a feeling on solitude within the echoey halls of this once-vibrant castle which was impressive.

Condon’s reimagining of Beauty and the Beast doesn’t seem to stray from the path that was laid out in the previous film. He does however, manage to add the spectacle that is enhanced with the advancements in film today, creatively shown by the ‘Be Our Guest’ musical number as the film enters an almost hallucinogenic area with this song and dance.

But between the big extravagant musical numbers and the story that builds the narrative the film eventually checks in at around 130 minutes and for me, this felt far too long. The inclusion of the musical numbers is fine, because it gives this modern-day Beauty and the Beast the ability to hit the nostalgic nerve, but there seems to be plenty of ’empty space’ throughout the film, offering no progressive for narrative nor characters.

For me, there did not seem to be that connection with the characters throughout the story and this could be down to the characters not pulling in great performances. Aside from the occasional laughs through LeFou and Gaston, there wasn’t a great deal of narrative for the characters to sink their teeth into. It’s very much a run-of-the-mill love story, but that can’t be helped as Condon’s reimagining seems to be very truthful to the original feature film.

That being said, there was a sense of enjoyment from the film. But I didn’t leave the cinema spellbound by the remake. Although the CGI effects were incredible and in some instances making the Beast more terrifying that he ought to be, the effects are not backed up by the characters. Everyone is lost in Gaston and LeFou’s shadows whilst they are on-screen, but they seem to drive home their scenes, thus making them more enjoyable characters to watch.

I didn’t go in with any sense of a connection to the original as a child and I’ve left indifferent. It was impressive with the set designs and the incredible scenery of this rural landscaped France. And the mix of comedy and musical worked in areas, but found the music too overpowering for the songs which left me wondering what they were singing half the time. Although it was enjoyable, I still found Favreau’s The Jungle Book to be the benchmark of these live-action remakes thus far.

(that’s until Guy Ritchie has he say with Aladdin)

Free Fire (2017)

Hot Fuzz tonally set the benchmark for me for Action Comedies, as every other action comedy film just does not seem to get the correct blend. For whatever reason, Hot Fuzz had this blend perfected and it’s never aged since its 2007 release.

Enter Free Fire, the trailers seemed have this balance tuned to perfection, which also gave me that sense of apprehension when going in and whether this carried over into the film. But regardless, it has to be said that Ben Wheatley has been on an incredible rise since Kill List, and he seems to be showing a diverse range of talents behind the camera.

One thing he has nailed for Free Fire is the perfect running time of 90 minutes, but I could have easily sat in and watched another hour of this film as the narrative unfolds. It’s not often that nowadays an action film takes place in just one setting, with the big blockbusters jetting to various locations before reducing them to rubble. And that’s become a bit boring and well, farcical.

Ben Wheatley has managed to bring some normality back to the action genre with Free Fire, but it’s the character’s nuanced movements that signify this. Justine’s (Brie Larson) trip as the enter the abandoned warehouse, or Gordon (Noah Taylor) getting a splinter during an incredibly tense moment during the gun deal, really give Free Fire that sense of reality. These directions are what is brilliant about this movie, as you wince with them at the glass being stuck in the hand, or getting a needle embedded in a palm.

And to carry on with this grounded approach take on the action genre, the gunshots are excruciatingly loud as they echo and ping around the empty warehouse. Wheatley has managed to inject some life into the action genre that goes against the humdrum affair of tearing cities to the ground in the name to protect civilians.

Peculiarly though, Free Fire doesn’t have a straightforward villain. You have some assholes in an empty warehouse, but no one is the standalone antagonist of this film. I believe this is done intentionally to give the characters more of a chance to express themselves in their own way, from the chipper Ord (Armie Hammer) to the apprentice-like Harry (Jack Reynor). But the screen-time that is allowed with each of the characters, as they try to outgun and outsmart the others in the room is excellent. But amidst all the anarchy that does ensue between the two sides, a confusion arises especially as Bernie (Enzo Cilenti) screams “I forgot whose side I’m on”.

It has to be said Free Fire becomes an incredibly funny film, with the characters interactions with each other. Much of the comedy is driven through Sharlto Copley’s Vern and his ego is just impressive. His comedic gestures and one-liners are just brilliant, including “Just watch and Vern”. But there doesn’t seem to be that reliance on the comedy within this film, as it just flows as the narrative naturally progresses.

It seems as though Wheatley has hit the sweet spot when it comes to the blend of action and comedy in Free Fire as all it all seems to flow together and enclosed within this warehouse space, which is just fantastic. It’s almost as though you can feel the dirt underneath the fingernails and feel the agonising shots that are placed in the characters calves and shoulders. But this displacement and not-very-accurate shooting is effective, because as I mentioned previously, it carries on that sense of reality, but still has that twinge when the shots do find their target.

Free Fire is worlds apart from High Rise, which really shows a depth in the talent that Wheatley possesses. The narrative of a gun deal gone wrong really works, especially as the characters spill off into different areas of warehouse. There isn’t one true shining star of the film, but rather a collaborative effort from all involved as they actually interact with the story and surroundings. I could’ve happily sat and watched another hour of this film as the chemistry that is on-screen is just enigmatic and brilliant to watch. I think Free Fire will not age, much like the aforementioned Hot Fuzz.

Ghost In The Shell (2017)

I had a strange sense of apprehension when heading into the viewing of Ghost In The Shell, but not because of the controversy that surrounded the casting of Scarlett Johansson, but probably because of my sheer enjoyment from the trailers.

This futuristic world that was shown was wonderfully fascinating, seeing behemoths of advertising, but also the glow of the colours that emanated from the screen. Scarlett Johansson’s casting was met with an abundance of controversy as she was cast in what was previously a predominately Asian role, but these voices grew quieter as the release crept closer.

This colourful glow in the trailers, was immediately evident in the opening scenes as vibrantly red Hanka Robotics staff carry Scarlett Johansson to an operating room to remove the brain, as her body slowly dies. Her brain is implanted in a skeleton composed solely of cybernetics, and then taken through the final stages of completing then ‘Shell’. This also marked a huge step forward in robotic technology for Hanka.

This body becomes first to have a conscious human mind controlling it, but she is immediately placed into an Anti-terrorist unit with the Department of Defence. I had no prior knowledge about Ghost In The Shell aside from it’s original work being a popular manga series, and had an Anime feature back in 1995. But, with the nature of this story, the question of ‘has technology gone too far?’, was always going to be at the forefront, especially as the line between human and robotics becomes increasingly blurred in this future world.

But instead of solely relying on the story to win over the audiences, Rupert Sanders bathes Ghost In The Shell in beautiful colours of this crafted futuristic world as Major (Scarlett Johansson) dives from atop a building and dramatically crashes through a window to save civilians in a beautifully shot sequence, mixed gorgeously with appropriate slow-motion.

Sanders does show a deft touch in immersing you into this world, which is also helped by electro-synth soundtrack that really adds to this futuristic feeling landscape. What really does help, and gets the audience involved is the direction of the characters and Sanders displays an excellent awareness of the screen presence for each of the characters involved.

Major’s right hand man, Batou (Pilou Asbaek) and the antagonist Kuze (Michael Pitt) all deliver solid performances giving Ghost In The Shell that extra intensity that it required, but significantly backed up by the ever-brilliant Takeshi Kitano as the not-usual emotionless entity but seemingly exhausted Aramaki.

As I mentioned, as the line of human and robotics becomes increasingly blurred, Hanka Robotics are threatened by the cyber-terrorist Kuze, which sends the film into some incredibly dark scenes, typified by Major’s ‘deep dive’ into the already terrifying Geisha-bot. But cleverly, Sanders chose not to go all in on the good vs evil story, as he touches on the identity battle Major faces as she experiences these ‘Glitches’, which becomes the more interesting storyline. 

And this story comes to a boiling point when Major comes face to face with Kuze. The story becomes this intoxicating battle of what is good and what is evil and couples it with touches of whether these cybernetic enhancements are good or bad. But this may sound overwhelming, but it really isn’t. Jamie Moss, William Wheeler and Ehren Kruger managed to feed enough of the story throughout the first hour or so, to keep it interesting and intriguing to carry it over the remaining forty.

That’s not to say that the film is foreseeable, as the story can be construed as weak in areas, but it’s the way in which the story is told makes it compelling. This coupled with the futuristic world and the collaborative effort of the cast made the aforementioned apprehension wash away instantly.

Considering Rupert Sanders previous film was Snow White and the Huntsman (which was quietly enjoyable), it has really escalating his presence as Ghost In The Shell was incredibly enjoyable to watch and had the perfect mix of storyline, action and the beautifully crafted CGI-scenes. The action was exciting when it needed to be, especially as Batou has an extravagant scene in the nightclub. For my money, Sanders managed to create a great mainstream adaptation of the original, which I will have to watch to see how it compares, but it has done nothing but excite me more for that viewing.