AN EMPIRE OF WORDS


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Berlin Syndrome (2017)

A common theme from the promotional footage of Berlin Syndrome is that it seems to escalate quickly. Like, really quickly. What seems to begin as a rather innocent story, suddenly progresses into a nightmare-inducing scenario.

The director Cate Shortland showed an unbelievably ability to perfectly play out the tensest of scenes in Berlin Syndrome, as she navigates the spaces between Clare (Teresa Palmer) and the antagonist Andi. (Max Riemelt)

There are no prizes to guessing where the film is set, and that is where we find Clare, clad in the classic tourist attire of bags and a flashy camera. Not a great deal is revealed about our heroin Clare, other than that she is Australian. Through her camera lens she sets to discover Berlin on her own accord, until she meets the lovable and charming Andi who shows her the backstreets of Berlin and his fathers strawberry patch.

Shortland had Clare pick up a wolf’s mask during this scene and remark she is a wolf at Andi, unbeknownst to her, Andi was the wolf but in sheep’s clothing. The charming ability Andi possesses soon wears off, as he brings Clare back to his place and spends the night with her. He whispers ‘nobody will hear you’ as they engage in a sexual manner, only to replicate that with sinister undertones later in the film.

Andi casually resumes his daily life, going to work and seeing his father, whilst Clare panics and becomes a wreck as she is trapped in Andi’s apartment. And this is where the tension arises, as the film picks up its pace over the just shy of two hours runtime. It doesn’t feel as though the film lasts for two hours as you become swept up in the ensuing madness that evolves between Andi and Clare.

As well as showing a terrific use of tension throughout the film, Cate Shortland also manages to use the claustrophobia of Andi’s apartment to show Clare almost as a caged animal for Andi’s pleasure. The relationship really gets under your skin, as you see Clare’s deflation as the story leads into Christmas and New Year.

This comes down to the characters that Shortland has managed to create, but also the brilliance of Teresa Palmer’s and Max Riemelt’s performance as the leads. They give thoroughly convincing performances so much so, it begins to make you think twice about who you meet when you travel to another city.

What I really enjoyed about Berlin Syndrome is that the film doesn’t allow itself to fall into any horror tropes that this genre could easily slip into. It remains in the thriller category as it continues to show the differing stories between Clare and Andi. Unfortunately the film does fall into the run of the mill for this genre, as Clare continually tries to escape.

Although the film does fall into this trope, it is still played out fantastically as the tension continually rises during the latter hour. Berlin Syndrome also transpires the narrative, as Andi does evolve into a sympathetic character, but the overarching casualness when it comes to the imprisonment of Clare remains, lurking in the background, which just emotes anger.

Berlin Syndrome becomes an enjoyable film, especially as it doesn’t fall into the expected tropes that previous films usual do. The performances are near-perfect from Teresa Palmer and Max Riemelt and unbelievably convincing as especially Andi gets under the skin as he is incredibly casual about the situation at hand. Cate Shortland manages to paint Berlin in a beautiful light, and yet sticks this horrifying situation in the centre as everyone around Berlin celebrates the New Year.


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Before I Go To Sleep (2014)

To potentially combat the domination of Marvel and DC in the film market, there has recently been a ‘boom’ in films adapted from mystery thriller novels such as Gone Girl, The Girl on the Train, Child 44 and Before I Go To Sleep. The latter seemingly fell by the wayside as Gone Girl came out around the same time as Before I Go To Sleep.

Memory loss being at the centre of a film is always difficult to convey and has only rarely come out excellently, the best example being Momento. Before I Go To Sleep has memory loss at the very centre of this tale, as Nicole Kidman takes on this challenging role of Christine.

Christine (Nicole Kidman) is a forty-year old woman who wakes up every morning not remembering anything. (Think 50 First Dates, but way more serious)
She wakes up in strange surroundings, and next to a strange man. Instantly she freaks out, only to be assured by the strange man that he is her husband, Ben (Colin Firth). He also informs Christine that she was in a car accident ten years earlier, which resulted in her memory loss.

It’s always difficult to construe memory loss convincingly on film, as the two most popular films to contain this are Momento and 50 First Dates and they are very, very different films. Nicole Kidman and Colin Firth shoulder this immeasurable task of convincingly act it out.

Not only would Kidman and Firth have to act out such a tough task, but the way Rowan Joffe has to keep the story interesting enough without ruining it within the first ten minutes. Having the inclusion of Dr. Nasch at this early stage and the small-scale cast keeps the story at the centre of the film, and of course interesting as it plays immediately on Christine’s suspicions about everyone.

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Dr. Nasch manages to convince Christine that he has been treating her for some months on her accident. He gifts her a video camera to keep a video diary and helping her remember information from the day previous. As the days and the treatment continues, Christine learns more, including that it wasn’t a car accident, but rather a brutal attack where she was left for dead.

As the film bores into it’s hour and a half runtime, Joffe keeps dripping other essences into the film and making us second-guess and triple-guess our assumptions made initially. And of course, what is a mystery thriller without a tense sense or two? Joffe plays out one of these scenes beautifully, gripping you to the very core.

I believe this comes down the culmination of the score, the setting and of course the acting from Kidman and Firth. Before I Go To Sleep manages to sustain the effectiveness of this memory loss through Nicole Kidman, but the surrounding Kidman with Firth and Mark Strong make up an excellent small-scale cast.

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Unfortunately for Before I Go To Sleep, Gone Girl outgunned it as they came out at similar points, yet it didn’t deserve to be as it manages to hold its own for the 90 minute runtime. Joffe creates a wonderfully tense piece of filmmaking, which is only helped on by the intimate cast of Kidman, Firth and Strong.

Before I Go To Sleep is deserving of being included in more conversations when compared to the likes of Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train (two films seemingly being compared with each other at this moment in time) as its beautifully tense and expertly acted out by the cast. Joffe manages to expertly dangle this tense thriller involving memory loss throughout the story with precision and still making it an enjoyable film to watch.


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Contagion (2011)

If you are a serious germaphobe, then I would not recommend watching this film, as a side effect of this would be enhancing your germaphobic tendencies. (Or alternatively turning into one after)

Between the rather tense thrillers of Solaris and Side Effects, Steven Soderbergh carried on his theme with Contagion. Bolstered by the all-star cast, including Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Laurence Fishburne, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law and Bryan Cranston all putting in a collective masterful performance.

Soderbergh chose to plunge us immediately into the story, as he begins at Day 2 of the pandemic. He builds this suspense and tension fantastically as he quickly hops from country to country and city to city including London, China and Minneapolis.

This is only helped tenfold by the music as it is perfectly crafted and catered to each scene, helping the suspense build in time with the increased spread of the pandemic and of course with the ever-rising infection rate.

Due to the story of Contagion, there was never going to be a massive need for special effects. Soderbergh instead chose to funnel the story through centralised stories, with the bulk of it taken on by Dr Cheever (Laurence Fishburne) and the CDC. (Centre for Disease Control)

Soderbergh’s containment of the story is one of the biggest strengths, as instead of jumping around the globe to the affected areas, he reveals what is needed to know. Although Laurence Fishburne is the primary driving force, key parts of the story are still helped through by Matt Damon and Marion Cotillard, and how they are being being affected by this disease.

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The continual suspense being buiilt is another of it’s biggest strengths, due to the second and triple guessing about the whodunnit element and who could in fact be the fatal patient zero. Although this film is pretty much a medical thriller, it still remains interesting. However, Soderbergh still offers a look into basic human instinct when everything goes to pot and the lengths humans will go to, to protect themselves and their families.

Soderbergh choice to focus on the interactions of people, whether that be handshakes, coughing in enclosed places or the handling of different things between people, only enhances this story. Now this is where the germaphobia begins to set in, as the characters onscreen begin to interact with things risking the chance of infection.

As the story wears on, it certainly doesn’t drag as it becomes interesting as we begin to see the lengths that Dr Cheever and his team go to when trying to halt the infection spreading and trying to find a vaccine. Laurence Fishburne assumes command of this story, but continually supported by a phenomenal cast.

Jude Law and Kate Winslet are infectious with their key performances to support Laurence. Jude as Alan Krumwiede, the fear inducing ‘truth’ reporter and Kate Winslet the field operative of the CDC, whom takes it upon herself to be on the front line and first defence.

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This film nearly becomes a complete perfect picture, however, the irregularities in the story just slightly let it down. Often I am all for open-ended endings, but Contagion does not fall into this bracket for me as I feel there are just far too many questions left to be answered.

But standing at around an hour and forty minutes, the film is of perfect length for viewing, as it doesn’t drag on too much, it rather just reveals enough information to keep us hooked. There are huge strengths to this film, including the cast and the soundtrack, but I feel the way the story told is actually is the biggest strength in this film. As I said, Soderbergh teases enough of the story to keep the audience hooked and in suspense whilst the story plays out over the pretty much perfect running time.


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Westworld (1973)

Welcome to Westworld, one of three getaway resorts invented for our pleasure by Delos Company. Westworld, Romanworld and Medievalworld are three vacation spots available for $1000 per day, to live out your indulgent fantasies.

Westworld is a wonderfully bizarre trip undertaken by Peter (Richard Benjamin) and John (James Brolin) who venture to Delos’ much famed vacation paradise. Peter becomes swept up in this bizarre world solely inhabited by androids and the only other humans are vacationers. These androids are indistinguishable to other humans, which allows vacationers to indulge in their greatest fantasies, even to the extremes.

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From the mind of Michael Crichton, whom is known for writing Jurassic Park and Twister, indulges not only the vacationers but the viewer with great sets of a old American styled Western town, Pompeii and the medieval castle.

Not only the great sets used, but Crichton creates throughly entertaining scenes, most notably, the bar fight scene in which everyone runs amok as bottles are smashed, chairs are thrown and people are put through tables.

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Naturally when a film involves science-fiction and the idea of artificial intelligence that can thrive in a world with us, there is always, always, always something bound to go wrong. This is broken down as the back-room staff in the Delos Company state that there seems to be virus strain that is infecting the robots and interrupting the circuitry.

The androids in question are so lifelike at points I was questioning who could be an android or who could simply be a vacationer at Westworld. This even goes down to the animals in a ‘turning-point’ scene where John is bitten by a Rattlesnake which I thought would’ve been a real snake, but turned out to be an android gone haywire.

It has the be said though, there are some flaws from the 1973 directorial feature film debut of Crichton as there is a clear to the eye ‘three-act’ structure maintained with Peter, our protagonist. It shows Peter being unsure of Westworld and not understanding it, then Peter succumbing to the charm of the vacation and then of course being hunted by Gunslinger in the finale.

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That being said, Westworld does make for a rather enjoyable watch all things considering. The effects for the 1970s are simply outstanding, mainly embodied by Brynner’s Gunslinger character, but the outstanding sets that were built for the film are also excellent.

The ‘three-act’ structure does slow the pace of the film down as it is quite recognisable between the acts, but the ‘thrilling’ part of the film is showcased in the final act in the showdown. Checking in with a run-time of 88 minutes though the film is fine for what it does and is rather entertaining.

I recently have learned that the film is set to be adapted into a mini-series. Now this could be tempting to watch as the film’s effects for the seventies are outstanding and with modern day effects at their disposal, the mini-series could look even more sublime.


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The Hateful Eight (2016)

Set deep in the mountains of Wyoming is Quentin Tarantino’s eighth (supposedly, depending on how you look at it) film. The Hateful Eight was first announced a few years back when the screenplay was first leaked, much to Tarantino’s disgust, whereby he actually cancelled the planned release.

Bringing aboard again, the familiar names with Tarantino films, like Kurt Russell, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen and of course Samuel L. Jackson. (who is cast in Tarantino films like Bill Murray is in Wes Anderson films) Tarantino carries on his Tarantino-esque motion pictures, divulging in strong characters, blood and stunning cinema backdrops.

If only the same could be said for the first hour or so in the stage coach scenes, as Kurt Russell’s John “The Hangman” Ruth unwillingly picks up two passengers along the road to Minnie’s Haberdashery, a stop off point to Red Rock. In tow with Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) in chains, he travels to the Haberdashery with Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) and Chris Mannix, (Walton Goggins) who claims to be the new Sheriff of Red Rock.

The first hour is entertaining if you enjoy strong characters, as that is pretty much is what is on screen. Four characters riding in a stage coach, conversing. Much of the film does continue this way as we are introduced to more characters at the Haberdashery, including Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), Bob (Demián Bichir), Joe Gage (Michael Madsen), and General Sandy Smithers (Bruce Dern).

I may go as far as saying the first hour or so is tiring. Due to the extent of the conversations that the characters embark upon, the film’s pace slows right down, making it drag. A positive to the first hour is that you get to see the stunning backdrops that Tarantino manages to capture as the coach travels through a snow-covered Wyoming.

(Potential spoilers ahead, tread carefully)

As the Major and General face off in a battle of stern words, the film begins to pick up. Major Warren coaxing the general into a retaliation is interesting, but all the while unjust I thought. However, it immediately quickens the pace for the film and begins the whodunnit aspect of the film and that thought process about who was in cahoots with Daisy. When this happens, the film becomes enchanting with the whodunnit element, something that I find is rare to capture on the silver screen nowadays, which Tarantino did masterfully.

(End of potential spoilers)

I don’t know how true it is, but I believe The Hateful Eight had a run as a stage play for a short time and I can see the appeal in this idea. This is emphasised by the constant things happening on and off the screen and the whodunnit aspect happening in an enclosed space.

Amongst all these happenings, on and off the screen, the score was absolutely fantastic. From the opening moments, to the silent night piano piece and even Jennifer Jason Leigh playing guitar. This was a definite triumph in the film and had a lasting impression on myself.

Jennifer Jason Leigh’s performance was thoroughly entertaining whilst she was on screen as well, considering Samuel L. Jackson dominated the screen time throughout the film. The casting did a superb job, as is the case with most Tarantino films. That being said, I could not enjoy the character of Oswaldo and Tim Roth playing him. My feelings were maybe it was a role written for Christoph Waltz or had Waltz in mind for the role.

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Truthfully, I did enjoy this film. But only from the big plot turning point and when the whodunnit ball gets truly rolling. The interior and exterior shots of Wyoming and the Haberdashery are truly stunning and cannot fault some of the shot choices that Tarantino included. Of course, with the nature of the story, the characters were always going to be strong and they are. And of course not forgetting the score that I thoroughly enjoyed throughout.

However, this doesn’t stop the initial feelings of slow paced stage coach ride. Tarantino at times got too invested in his characters, to the point of them telling pointless stories to one other. Admittedly, this shows great depth in the characters, but in a whodunnit, slow paced drawn out film, this wasn’t the time nor the place I felt.

7/10


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Ex Machina (2015)

Alex Garland has potentially produced and directed one of the finest but ominous films of the 21st Century. I realise I am a little late to the Ex Machina appreciation party. It doesn’t stop said appreciated for Garland creating an eery look into the potential future of artificial intelligence.

It’s only until the credits rolled up and I realised that it was the same Alex Garland that wrote the screenplay for 28 Days Later, 28 Weeks Later and Sunshine (which happens to be one of my all-time favourite films)

Ex Machina opens with Caleb (Domnhall Gleeson) winning a company competition to spend a week at the compound owned by Nathan (Oscar Isaac), the owner of Bluebook (The company Caleb codes for). Nathan’s compound is so large that requires a helicopter to fly there.

Nathan fills Caleb in on something special that he has been working on, a robot with artificial intelligence (known to them as Ava) and Nathan wants Caleb to administer the Turing test on Ava (played by Alicia Vikander). (Which is a test to decipher whether an AI can appear to be human). This is done through Ava sessions throughout the week.

It has to be said, the effects used in this film are simply astonishing with Alicia Vikander transformed into a robot, but also a few other scenes I thought were excellent but cannot talk about due to potential spoilers. The music was also fantastic, even going down to whirrs as Ava walks, which was a fantastic effect.

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And this isn’t where it stops for the music, as the music paints this tense portrait throughout the sessions with Ava and the post-session meetings with Nathan. Especially as Ava reveals information about Nathan during a compound blackout. Often during the sessions the music becomes uncontrollable and blaring and made me tense during these scenes, as it builds the anticipation to know what is going on in the compound.

Oscar Isaac, Domnhall Gleeson and Alicia Vikander were all superb in this film and really kept the pace of the film up as we learn more about their characters as their relationships grow (or not in Caleb’s and Nathan’s case). This film was truly made for the characters involved in this, rather than the action in this film.

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It has to be said, I’ve read a few reviews describing it severely lacked an action sequence to do the film justice, however, I believed the action sequence to be of perfect fitting within the film and how it’s played out. Otherwise I believe this would’ve drawn too much attention away from the last few moments.

Overall, this is an outstanding directorial debut from Alex Garland, and with another work coming in 2017, I truly cannot wait for. And standing at around 108 minutes long, the film was paced superbly, not forgetting the incredible score aiding the tense scenes throughout the film. The cinematography was also astounding with the beautiful shots of Nathan’s compound, coupled with the lighting and colouring of the interior made this a joy to watch. But the real triumph in this film is how the characters played out the story is fantastic and the real reason I kept watching this film.

9/10

Also watching this film, you might see the most light hearted scene considering Ex Machina’s subject matter. A smile never left my face during this certain scene. (Don’t worry you’ll know which one)


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Enemy (2015)

(I’ve put it under 2015 because that is when this film was released in the United Kingdom)

Jake Gyllenhaal has a knack for those creepy, disturbing, intense films recently doesn’t he? In his younger days was the likes of Donnie Darko, but now since 2007 he has starred in some of the creepier films to hit the box office, including the likes of Brothers, Zodiac and more recently Nightcrawler. 

This film knows how to build tension brilliantly. Directly from the live sex show scene (that wouldn’t go amiss in Ryan Gosling’s Lost River) up until Adam discovers his perfect doppelgänger Anthony (both played by Jake Gyllenhaal of course) in the film Where There’s a Will There’s a Way. An immediate obsession begins for Adam, and the tense ride continues and begins a downward spiral into a deep dark story.  

The subtle score throughout the movie is used to excellent effect and builds the tension massively, especially as Adam and Anthony interfere with their doppelgängers respective life. The music isn’t even blaring a whole lot, it’s just subtle tones used over a period time, but with dramatic and fantastic effect.

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Of course, the acting helps this movie out no end, with the creepiness invoked by Jake Gyllenhaal, who was known for hardly blinking in the movie Nightcrawler. Javier Gullón did an absolutely astounding job of adapting the novel, The Double,  originally written by José Saramago, as the film kept the twists coming and kept drawing me in with the information that was spilled.

Jake Gyllenhaal is supported by Mélanie Laurent and Sarah Gabon, however, the necessary driving force (as I mentioned) is definitely Gyllenhaal. Convincingly Adam and Anthony had to have two different character arcs and they definitely did with Gyllenhaal handling this task superbly. Adam takes on the sheepish character arc, whereas Anthony takes on the confident arrogant character.

Villeneuve’s use of special effects is virtually nonexistent, possibly because of not wanting to shift the focus away from the story and the acting, which probably ended up being the best decision. His shots of Toronto are fantastic with the slight ting of green plastered throughout the film, giving it a very sickly feel (to probably represent the sickness that is sat in either Adam or Anthony’s head). And of course, not forgetting (possibly my favourite shot) the gigantic spider crawling around in the heights of Toronto. (see below)

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This film was a pleasure to watch and the pacing was brilliant. The film stood at around 90 minutes, but didn’t feel all that long through the dramatic use of music (in the right places of course) and the superb acting. And of course the real focal point of this film would be the story because to be truthful I’m still not 100% sure on the true nature of the story. (I would actually love to hear people’s interpretations about this and what you thought about this film as it still sits playing in my head)

8/10

I know this has been one of my shorter reviews, however with the nature of the story it was quite difficult to speak about it without giving away too much information. Truthfully, I recommend this film, I would not recommend however if you have a massive phobia of spiders as they are used in a few scenes.