“You Gave It All To Her, Right In Front of Me…”
Tackling the ridiculously difficult genre of the erotic thriller for a debut picture, new kid on the block, Denise Di Novi, seems to have gone full flow with the notion that to get somewhere quickly, the hardest options are sometimes the best to get out of the way. In regards to recent depictions of such a genre, within this year even, the widespread level of excellence ranges from the utter shoddy in the form of the Fifty Shades franchise to the interesting and brilliantly executed, with Elle and Park Chan Wook’s The Handmaiden being top-end depictions of eroticism upon the big-screen, helped primarily from scripts which attempt to shake up the format and offer something original instead of simply falling into the pot of generic silliness. Unfortunately for Di Novi, Unforgettable is the type of movie which you question how it actually managed to make it onto the big screen with it clearly being the type of erotic thriller that is destined for the clearance DVD bin in your local supermarket sometime in the near future, yet with star power in the form of Rosario Dawson and Katherine Heigl holding down the fort, Unforgettable is passable, generic popcorn nonsense which ticks all the boxes in a manner which is both swift and unoffensive.
Whilst the trailer for the movie conforms to the common issue of giving away not just the main bulk of the movie but indeed the entire bleeding plot, Unforgettable comes across as representing itself as the 21st century model of Basic Instinct, yet without the shore footing of Elle director Paul Verhoeven in its’ corner and without the iconic image of Sharon Stone as the film’s leading bunny boiler. Replacing Stone in such a role is Katherine Heigl, the plain faced barbie doll who takes the character of the kooky and wholly obsessive ex-wife and completely runs with it. demonstrating the idea that girls with slicked back hair and a penchant for cleaning silver utensils are without question a grade A psychopath. On the other side of the court is Rosario Dawson’s leading heroine, a character who through a wide range of questionable decisions ends up battered, bruised and completely ostracised from her newly found fiancee throughout the course of the movie in a manner in which is meant to exert a sense of tension from the audience, an audience which are way too clever and knowing to see where the entire plot is heading straight from the outset. The Handmaiden it ain’t, Unforgettable is ironically, quite forgettable and is saved primarily due to its’ two leading stars which prevent the film from disappearing into nonexistence forever.
Overall Score: 4/10
“We’re Looking At The First Proof Of Life Beyond Earth…”
Battling head-to-head this year with Alien: Covenant for the most obvious rip off of the original Ridley Scott classic, Alien (1978), Child 44 director Daniel Espinosa returns this week with Life, a sloppily directed and face-palm inducingly stupid science fiction movie which steals so many cues from previous and inherently better movies that I began to lose count just over the halfway mark. With an impressive cast, featuring the likes of the always superb Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson and Ryan Reynolds, Life suffers from a fundamental flaw of failing to be something it really isn’t, with its’ utter silliness and complete lack of plausibility failing to stack up to the movie-maker’s obvious intentions, resulting in a sometimes painful experience which exposes its’ audience to a rough reek of sanctimony, particularly in a final act in which the film loses all sense of credibility due to wacky direction and a element of deafening inevitability. In a month in which Get Out reset the bar in regards to the power of contemporary horror movies, Life is unfortunately the type of film which just really lets the rest of the team down.
Whilst the film does boast an impressive leading alien species in the form of Calvin, a terrifyingly murderous martian which in a similar vein to the Alien franchise’s Xenomorph’s, feeds and grows at the rate of knots, Life doesn’t entirely put the leading foes’ effective features to good use, primarily due to a narrative which conflicts with the intellect of its’ supposed lead characters who throughout the movie are incredibly prone to making the most obviously stupid decisions in order to crank the plot into a dramatic submission. Whilst the death of an early character is strikingly shocking in terms of both its’ timing and the manner in which we are introduced to the power of Calvin the killer martian, the movie slowly loses its’ element of suspense and threat, resulting in moments of utter tedium when there should have been particles of strong horror which I personally was looking forward to after being warned of within the opening BBFC classification. A messy sci-fi which weakens as it progresses, Life is surprisingly uninspiring and mediocre. Also, what is it with films using defibrillators in the wrong way? YOU CAN’T SHOCK A FLAT-LINE. Peace.
Overall Score: 4/10
“I’m Lost. I Can’t Tell Whether Or Not I’m Going Crazy…”
Whilst many will link the complex aura of Kristen Stewart almost automatically to the Twilight franchise, her reputation as one of Hollywood’s most interesting actors has increased delightfully over the course of the past few years, with her desire to work primarily away from the heavy headlines of big budgeted productions ultimately resulting in a change of perception from the moody teen vampire star to a truly remarkable and reliable screen presence. Continuing on from 2014’s critically acclaimed Clouds of Sils Maria, Stewart reunites with director Olivier Assayas this week in Personal Shopper, a bone-chillingly creepy ghost story which although is undeniably original in execution, provides enough classic gothic horror motifs to appreciate the cine-literate nature of Assaya’s direction which harks back to everything from The Haunting to a Mulholland Drive-esque air of ambiguity throughout its’ more than appreciative runtime of 105 minutes. If it’s cheap jump scares you’re after, go watch Paranormal Activity, Personal Shopper is a marvellous platform for Stewart to work her unappreciated magic in a manner which is calculated with an utmost efficiency from its’ impressive director.
After the tragic loss of her twin brother, Kristen Stewart’s Maureen, a self-proclaimed medium, capable of sensing and communicating with the afterlife, attempts to reconnect with her recently deceased twin in an attempt to seek closure and continue with her life in Paris where working as a personal shopper for Nora von Waldstätten’s high-profile yet entirely egotistic fashion model, Kyra, is a financial necessity rather than a enjoyable pastime. After embracing the existence of an unknown spirit in her lost brother’s previous home, Maureen becomes transfixed with the thrill of the unknown, resulting in a supposed game of cat and mouse between her world and the spirit world, concluding with dire and unexpected consequences. Featuring perhaps two of the most unnerving, bone-tingling scenes of recent years, Personal Shopper is a wildly subversive thriller which leaves the audience to fill in the blanks in a manner which totally understands and respects its’ intended admirers. With Stewart in the leading role, her performance is both utterly mesmerising and entirely convincing, creating an air of tension in certain scenes which in the hands of others would have been completely lifeless and forgettable, particularly a long drawn-out scene in which our leading heroine communicates with her unknown admirer via smartphone. Between herself and director Assayas, Personal Shopper is another winning formula for the duo and is indeed one of the more interesting movies of the year so far.
Overall Score: 8/10
“Both Of Us, It’s Sickening. It’s Perverse. I Was In Denial But Now It’s All Very Clear…”
To say Paul Verhoeven is a man whose career is somewhat contrary in terms of both critical and financial success is on a similar vein when stating the current leader of the US of A isn’t exactly held in the highest esteem, and whilst the infamous Dutch director is best known for the likes of cult favourites such as RoboCop, Starship Troopers and the excellent Phillip K. Dick influenced, Schwarzenegger starring, Total Recall, other cinematic ventures including Hollow Man and the hotly panned, Razzie-winning Showgirls, show that excellence isn’t exactly the result every time the great Dane decides to release a new film. With Elle however, the highly publicised Oscar nomination for the film’s leading star Isabelle Huppert follows in the footsteps of a large amount of hype, a reputation which we all are well aware of doesn’t always result in an overly positive movie-going experience come release day. Thankfully for Verhoeven however, Elle is a gripping and wholly twisted depiction of sexual violence and subversive desires, whilst the portrayal of the most dysfunctional family in the past few years of so gives an air of black comedy to the film’s wide range of elements which all in all make it a riveting success.
Helmed together by a simply majestic performance from leading star Isabelle Huppert, who throughout the movie is effortless in portraying a rape victim who cautiously and calmly finds her way to exact revenge on the person who wronged her, Elle features quite extensively a narrative which reasserts Verhoeven’s knack for the genre-bending uncanny, taking all the sliminess and rough-toughness of previous movies such as Basic Instinct and Showgirls and forming them around a leading character who is both subversive in makeup yet undeniably interesting from start to finish. Whilst Elle is categorically not a film for the majority of audiences, the one-two duo of Verhoeven and Huppert have created a movie which stands head and shoulders above the limited amounts of erotic-based thrillers released in previous years (looking at you Fifty Shades) with its’ quirky jet black sensibility propelling the finished article into a existential thriller which verges on the edge of total B-Movie splatter come the final act but ultimately one which is cautiously enjoyable nonetheless.
Overall Score: 8/10
“We Got Multiple Explosions. We Need Help Down Here..!”
Of the many cinematic pleasures within 2016, Peter Berg’s Deepwater Horizon was a surprisingly entertaining thrill-ride, utilising the on-screen likeability of Mark Wahlberg to helm a dramatisation of one of the 21st centuries’ most infamous accidental disasters in a vein both poignant and wholly respectful. Whilst the one-two pairing of Wahlberg and Peter Berg shared mild success previously with Lone Survivor, the release of Deepwater Horizon last year has ultimately pushed the duo into a formidable partnership, returning this year with yet another live-action adaptation of a high-profile disaster in the form of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, a recent example of terrorism action within the United States. With a supporting cast featuring the likes of Kevin Bacon, J.K. Simmons and John Goodman, Patriots Day is a thrilling continuation of the Berg’s recent cinematic success, creating a sometimes breathtaking drama which mixes white-knuckle tension, Michael Mann-esque action set pieces and an effective screenplay which amalgamates a wide range of on-screen depictions of many who were involved in the events which occurred during that terrifying day almost four years ago.
In terms of differences between the previous works of the successful duo, unlike in Lone Survivor and Deepwater Horizon where Wahlberg portrayed real-life characters, Patriots Day allows the Boston-born A-Lister to fill his boots with a strictly composite character, created to not only fill certain narrative gaps throughout the movie, but also act as the walking cinematic guide for the audience, seemingly being wherever the high-octane events take place as often and as quickly as possible. Whilst the film uses its’ leading stars to a somewhat solid degree, the frighteningly startling and wholly believable pairing of Alex Wolff and Themo Melikidze as terrorist brothers Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev are the real stars of the show, using their intimidating capabilities to create one of the tensest scenes of the year so far in which they carjack and threaten to kill the life of a Chinese U.S national in a manner similar to feel and tone of a similarly haunting scene within last year’s Nocturnal Animals. Concluding with interviews with the true survivors and heroes of Boston, Patriots Day follows in a similar vein to Deepwater Horizon by not only being a entertaining body of work but by being one which is entirely respectful too.
Overall Score: 8/10
“Do You Know What The Cure For The Human Condition Is? Disease. Because That’s The Only Way One Could Hope For A Cure…”
Rather annoyingly, the use of the term “visionary” is something of which is pushed around so often in the current cinematic climate that to be regarded as such is somewhat of a negative down-stroke. With the likes of Zack Snyder and now Gore Verbinski proclaiming themselves as visionaries of modern cinema, directors who have released such “classics” such as Sucker Punch and Mouse Hunt respectively, the term has now officially become defunct and saved only for those who are deserved of the term, you know, like directors who have actually made films of some worth. Anyhow, Verbinski returns this year with the 18 rated A Cure For Wellness, a film which harks back to everything from The Ninth Configuration to Lars von Trier’s Riget, and a picture which can only be regarded as one of the most boring, misjudged and overlong works of horror I can remember within the remits of recent history. Whilst many have condoned A Cure For Wellness as simply nothing more than a Shutter Island rip-off, Verbinski’s latest makes Scorsese’s OTT two hours of mania look like a modern masterpiece, with it more likely to send you into a deep coma of confusion than inflict any real tangible sense of threat throughout a barnstorming length of two and a half hours.
After dropping a job-losing clunker and subsequently threatened with criminal prosecution, egotistic Wall Street flunky Lockhart, played by The Place Beyond the Pines’ Dane DeHaan, is sent to a mysterious health care centre in the heart of the Swiss Alps in order to retrieve a AWOL financial executive who has supposedly regressed into a complete and utter basket case and refuses to return to the US of A in order to complete a huge financial deal. Cue creepy looking patients, a mindless and ridiculously overcooked narrative and a concluding feeling of watching a movie which not only could lose at least an hour of its’ running time but one in which nothing actually happens, A Cure for Wellness suffers primarily from a runtime which is unbearable to say the least, and although Verbinski is renowned for an array of miscalculated movie lengths, with Pirates of the Caribbean 3 being a prime example, A Cure for Wellness is his pièce de résistance in terms of runtime malpractice. Whilst Jason Isaacs does do the best with what he’s given in the cliched “foreign stranger” role, the movie can’t escape the problems of its’ silliness, particularly within scenes of unnecessary violence including a cheesy R-rated dentist appointment and an attempted rape scene which borders on the outskirts of being a utter cringe-inflicted misstep. If you wish to see the type of movie A Cure for Wellness is so obviously attempting to be, seek out something like Shutter Island or The Shining instead, relieving you of the utter tedium of delving into a horror which is neither horrific or interesting. A cure for wellness? A cure for sleep deprivation.
Overall Score: 3/10
“Let Us Show Them What We Can Do. Let Us Show Them How Powerful We Can Be…”
If there is one thing to be said about M. Night Shyamalan’s career in the business of movie-making so far, to say it was one of the most diverse and critically haphazard back catalogues of all time wouldn’t exactly be a raging overstatement. Whilst films such as The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable continue to be Shyamalan’s support beam for his seemingly imperishable reputation, people tend to forget the cinematic bombs such as After Earth, The Last Airbender and Lady in the Water, films which not only are regarded as utter, utter stinkers but films of which Shyamalan tends not to remind people of their existence in fear of not actually being allowed to be behind the camera ever again in Hollywood. With Split, Shyamalan seems to be on similar and overtly familiar territory, with a creepy, psychological premise at the core of the film’s screenplay and a final twist which is both surprising and overtly on-the-nose in terms of its’ utter silliness but one which too will leave the lay cinematic audience scratching their heads.
Featuring a scenery chewing central performance from James McAvoy, one which echoes the full-blown madness of his role in the black-hole darkness of Filth, Shyamalan’s latest is undeniably a welcome return to some sort of form, with the obvious b-movie silliness actually resorting in a movie which is much more fun in terms of its’ exaggerated ripeness than one might have first expected, due mainly to the headline performance of McAvoy, whilst the go-to actress for creepy leading ladies in recent times, Anya Taylor-Joy, continues to impress after continuing on from her stand-out roles in both The Witch and Morgan. Of course, now the un-embargoed reveal of the very final act of Split is one of which will baffle those unaware of Shyamalan’s previous work, yet for those privy to a particular early Shyamalan picture, the concluding seconds bring with it a surprising sense of wanting to pat Shyamalan on the back for having the audacity to attempt it, let alone actually film it.
Overall Score: 7/10
“Terrorism Is Just An Excuse…”
A dramatic tale of one of the most controversial figures in recent history you say? Who shall we bring on as director for that then? Oliver Stone of course, the man renowned for shall we say, colourful political views but more importantly probably the right man for the job when admiring his previous work such as the renowned Vietnam trilogy which included Platoon and Born on the Forth of July, both of which supplied Stone with Oscar wins, as well as his work on astute US political dramas such as JFK and Nixon. Although the Oscar winning documentary Citizenfour provided an in-depth examination of Edward Snowden and his role as the notorious whistle-blower, Stone’s dramatisation of similar events features Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the titular role, alongside a strange rafter of familiar faces such as Timothy Olyphant, Tom Wilkinson and Nicholas Cage who come and go in less-than supporting roles. If the man at the centre of the movie wasn’t so darn interesting, Snowden could have been in danger of being a sour, cold drama, yet with a top performance from Gordon-Levitt, Snowden is a interesting, if rather overlong, political drama.
Where the film is in its’ most interesting is scenes in which we delve into the technological aspect of Snowden’s past, whether it be hidden away in some James Bond-esque spy cave in Hawaii or hiding under a false name in the metropolitan sprawl of Geneva, yet Stone is also interested in the personal side of Snowden, giving us an in-depth examination of his relationship with partner Lindsay Mills (Divergent series’ Shailene Woodley) and the strain put on such by his classified occupation. Unfortunately for Stone, this aspect of the film is undoubtedly the weakest and therefore becomes an issue when at least two-thirds of the drama is focused upon such instead of the more interesting, political issues that Stone is renowned for taking more of an interest in. Throughout the course of the drama, the movie does seep into frank ridiculousness, particularly when Snowden is greeted to the pantomime silliness of the enlarged face of an angry Rhys Ifans, a scene in which it was hard to not laugh at the sheer OTT nature of Stone’s decision to enforce a higher level of dramatisation than the already interesting storyline needed. Snowden is overlong, silly and boring at times but with the one-two of Gordon-Levitt and Woodley attempting to do the most with what they can, the film does work on some level, just not the level the pedigree of Stone should be settling for.
Overall Score: 6/10
“Being Good At This Job Isn’t Very Beautiful…”
Brad Pitt. Marion Cotillard. Robert Zemeckis. Add into the mix screenwriter Steven Knight, best known for Eastern Promises and Peaky Blinders alongside a range of lesser work such as Burnt and last years’ unbelievably dire Seventh Son, and Allied could be regarded as a much anticipated meeting of the majestic, with all factors of the film’s main quartet being able to hit full stride when needed. Unfortunately for Zemeckis and co,. Allied isn’t exactly a work of cinematic art, in fact, it is far from it, with the film’s impressively strong beginning being offset by a shabby middle and end, alongside some strange plot decisions and an ending so fluffy it wouldn’t be amiss in a Disney movie. As for the film’s narrative, Allied follows the relationship of Max (Pitt) and Marianne (Cotillard) who fall in love after their success during a mission within German-occupied Morocco in the height of the second world war. After returning to London, Max is told some grave news regarding his recently wed wife, grave news which shakes his life to the core.
As is the perils of modern day cinema, if you’ve seen the trailer for Allied, which wouldn’t be much of a surprise seeing how it seems to be absolutely everywhere at the moment, you’ve basically seen the majority of the film, albeit the movie’s climax, a climax which isn’t entirely much of a shocker in itself, and this is a fundamental issue regarding the film’s overall quality. IF the big reveal wasn’t blasted at the audience before they’d even set foot into the cinema, maybe the attraction of Allied would have been less so but this may have been made up for in terms of shock factor when the reveal was made in the actual film. Who knows, and more importantly, who cares. Allied isn’t the best work to come from the likes of Robert Zemeckis, the man behind fantastic work such as Back to the Future and Forest Gump, and instead is rooted somewhere between the likes of What Lies Beneath and The Walk. A solid, if rather hokey, thriller sums up Allied but hey, hokey is good sometimes.
Overall Score: 6/10
“Do You Ever Feel You’re Life Has Turned Into Something You Never Intended..?”
With only his second feature after A Single Man, designer-turned-filmmaker Tom Ford returns to the cinematic spectrum this month with Nocturnal Animals, a gripping, white-knuckle thriller featuring a stellar cast on top of their form and a film which not only develops the reputation of Ford as an intelligent and sophisticated filmmaker but a film which resonates with you long after you arise from your sweat-covered seat and leave the cinema. Not only is Nocturnal Animals one of the most original films of the year, it is undoubtedly one of the toughest thrillers I can remember seeing in a long time, producing scene after scene of unbearable tension all the while mixing between a wide range of genres in an effective and unashamedly top-notch fashion. With an unbelievable bunch of A-List stars such as Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal and the always brilliant Michael Shannon at the film’s core, Nocturnal Animals is an essential movie for anyone tough enough to withstand its’ scorching sense of nihilistic suffering.
After receiving the first print of former husband’s latest novel “Nocturnal Animals”, fashion designer Susan Morrow (Adams) begins to delve deep into the dark and twisted story that her former lover has created, all-the-while reminiscing not only her own, personal life struggles but the way in which her relationship with former husband Edward Sheffield (Gyllenhaal) came to an end. Mixing in a somewhat Lynchian nihilism to developments as well as a wide range of thrilling yet hard-going set pieces, reminiscent of films such as Lynch’s Blue Velvet and even films such as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre in terms of the film’s relentless darkness, Nocturnal Animals will indeed not be for everyone, yet much like Winding Refn’s The Neon Demon earlier this year, some will revel in its’ extreme genre crossing boundaries; myself included. Whilst the film’s rather off-kilter and entirely misjudged opening title sequence prevents the movie from being anything close to perfection, Nocturnal Animals is one of the most refreshing and original movies of the year.