Tuesday, 11 August 2015

The NeverEnding Story (1985)

In 1985, Wolfgang Petersen gave life to Michael Ende’s children’s novel The NeverEnding Story in a wildly adventurous piece of cinema that tells the tale of Bastian, a troubled young boy who dives into a mysterious fantasy land through the pages of a magical library book. After shocking and inspiring kids all over the world and grossing a huge $100 million, lovers of cinema are sure to label this crazy movie as a classic must-see for children then and now.

And so this explains the Square Chapel’s great decision to air the film this past weekend, serving as the second movie the arts centre has broadcasted this summer in a great new cinema project for the public. Sitting down to watch a film at the Square Chapel instead of to watch a theatre performance made an exciting change, and knowing that I was to be watching The NeverEnding Story - a movie I remembered I loved as a child - was nostalgic and fun.

However The NeverEnding Story is not quite the same when you’re 15 years older and looking at it from a critical point of view… Of course, with progressive leaps and bounds in modern technology presenting us with outstanding 3D and even 4D graphics, and lifelike animation bringing in some of the highest cinematic profits we see today, it is hard to not laugh and cringe at the expectedly unrealistic and inefficient special effects of this oldie. Not only do the strange characters like the dumb-rock-man-thing and giant-flying-dog-dragon’s mouths not move in time to their words (words so haphazardly written by Petersen and his screenwriter Weigl), but there are ridiculously cartoon lightning bolts, fluorescent fire and conspicuous superimposed green-screen backdrops aplenty.

Perhaps this minor problem can be easily ignored given the era of the movie – after all, films of this time were all riveted in terrible CGI that went unnoticed, for instance, the disastrous visual effects of 1982’s Poltergeist was nominated for an Academy Award! – but the questionable plot and surprisingly frightening characters don’t make a modern audience forgive so quickly.

Barrett Oliver’s Bastian is played as he is written – a lonely weirdo who mourns his Mother’s death, however this portrayal brings about absolutely no feelings of endearment or sorrow, as he is so heavily overshadowed by co-star Noah Hathaway, playing a young hero inside of the magical book, Atreyu. Atreyu has no volume level lower than ‘REALLY LOUD YELLING’ and his determination to save the fictional land of Fantasia from The Great Nothing is hardly inspiring.

As for the other characters, the Childlike Empress (Tami Stronach) – whose appearance is built up until the very end – is so creepy and so oddly eloquent, making for an un-relatable and unlikeable character. However it is the giant-flying-dog-dragon (I still don’t really know what it is) with his sinister laugh and his disturbing words (yes it can talk) that adds quite an unnecessary element of eeriness and almost sexual undertones.

All of this aside… I had to remind myself that, yes, although I was here to analyse the film as a 20 year old, what could I remember taking from the film as a young child? The answers are fun, adventure and imagination. Kids don’t care about logic (luckily, because this film has none) and kids don’t notice awkward scripts and terrible direction, but what they do care about is how long they can watch a film for without getting bored. 

In truth, The NeverEnding Story doesn’t make you bored at all. Some aspects do make you ponder, and some will definitely give you shivers - and not the good kind - yet the overcrowded, non-stop nonsense is somewhat entertaining. There is excitement from start to finish thanks to brilliant suspense (will he make it/won’t he make it), lots of shouting and jumping, lots of swooping and flying, lots of funny looking people and, unforgettably, a giant-flying-dog-dragon

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Insidious: Chapter 3

Director: Leigh Whannell
Screenplay: Leigh Whannell
Starring: Stefanie Scott, Lin Shaye, Dermot Mulroney
Genre: Horror, Drama
Rating: 15

Although it seems a little too daring to attempt to create another horror movie series as successful as the terrifying Saw films - which grossed over half a billion dollars worldwide – the mastermind producer-writer team behind the revolutionary franchise (Leigh Whannell, James Wan) here push forward with their second chain of horror films: Insidious, and the third instalment – Insidious: Chapter 3. Daring it may be, disappointing it is not, as this film makes for a fantastic horror that gets your heart racing and your body trembling.

The movie serves as a prequel to the Lambert haunting from the first two, telling the story of Quinn (Stefanie Scott), a bright, sparky teenager who tries to reach out to her late mother with help from psychic Elise (Lin Shaye) but instead attracts a demon spirit whom attaches itself to her soul, with the aim to take her to join it in the darkness of The Further. Whilst the tale of Shaye’s character is established in the earlier films, Whannell here lets the well-esteemed actress take her rightful spotlight, by allowing her more screen-time and presenting her to have a much more important role. Shaye tackles this with brilliance, showcasing a surprising range of emotions for the usually vapid horror movie heroin – whether these be feelings of terror and haunt, grief and loss or strength and resilience, Shaye does them well.

The helplessly bedbound Quinn is played astoundingly with a vulnerability that helps the audience to empathise with her terror, but also with a powerful integrity that manages to defy any silly damsel-in-distress stereotypes that women often face in the horror industry. In fact, Insidious: Chapter 3’s strength comes mainly from its two female leads and how skilfully these actresses attack their roles, written so complimentarily by Whannell.

Whannell is exceptional not only with his haunting script, but also with his directing debut. His scare-factor timing and eerie pacing are so efficiently done, teaming well with silent, creeping camera shots and a jolting score from Joseph Bishara to create a film with so much mounting suspense that it is hardly watchable at times. Typical of any horror movie, there are twists, turns and bumps in the dark aplenty, however what is not typical of any horror movie is a story so profound, and characters so likeable, that the audience feel like they are really involved in this tale. This, of course, makes the scary moments (there are many) all the more terrifying.

Insidious: Chapter 3 may be one of the best horror films I have seen in a long while. This story is so real that it sticks with you and will still make you shudder as you lay down to sleep that night, which is what scary movies were set out to do. Perhaps, then, Whannell and Pan’s attempt to create the next best horror series is not as farfetched as we once thought. Watch this space.

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Far From The Madding Crowd (2015)

Writers: Thomas Hardy (novel), David Nicholls(screenplay)
Starring: Carey MulliganMatthias SchoenaertsMichael Sheen 
Genre: Drama, Romance
Rating: 12

With Thomas Hardy’s 1874 novel at its base, Vinterberg’s take on the earthy classic Far From The Madding Crowd makes for a turbulent, passionate and authentic film, that is undoubtedly watchable and riveted with talent, however perhaps not as iconic as Hardy’s original piece.
Carey Mulligan is Bathsheba Everdeen, a brashly sovereign woman torn between the admiration of three very different men – the sturdy shepherd Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schonaerts), the wealthy farmer William Boldwood (Michael Sheen) and the dangerously charming Sergeant Troy (Tom Sturridge), proving herself “too independent” for their affections, only to then fall for the rakish Sergeant in a flurry of lust and appetite.
Hardy’s literature is beautifully tackled by screenplay writer David Nicholls, providing a script that is resilient and endearing at once. Of course, a script of such dignity could only be carried to the end by a cast as skilled as this. Mulligan’s Bathsheba – a heroin and unexpected inheritor of her late uncle’s farm - is lively, headstrong and intelligent without being too brazen, bringing the much-loved character to life with sweetness, purity and integrity as she proudly takes on a heavy role of the farm’s Mistress. Sheen’s performance as the perturbed and “jilted” Mr Boldwood is remarkable as he demonstrates exactly why he is so respected in the business, presenting us with a character of such depth and intense emotion – the scenes with him are captivating. Similarly, Schonaert’s Gabriel is quietly fascinating and earnest, which really emphasises the recklessly brutishness of the Sergeant, so dexterously portrayed by the young Sturridge.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a period drama without astonishing scenery - so effectively captured by cinematographer Charlotte Bruus Christensen in a presentation of swooping shots and daring camera angles which really showcase the beauty and peacefulness of Victorian England. A magnificently traditional score from Craig Armstrong accompanies this splendour, making the picture easily a modern classic.

This film is certainly not for everybody – but what film is? Despite the tempestuous plot and enchanting performances, there are some slightly dullish moments, which altogether compose a movie of yes, great exhilaration, but also a good amount of respite to allow for a little nap whilst watching on a Sunday evening. Extremely well made and well presented, Vinterberg’s adaptation of Far From The Madding Crowd is surely to still be enjoyed and remembered in many years to come.

Sunday, 29 March 2015

Insurgent (2015)

Directed by: Robert Schwentke
Starring: Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Kate Winslet
Written by: Veronica Roth (book), Brian Duffield (screenplay), Akiva Goldsman (screenplay)
Genre: Sci-Fi, Drama, Romance
Rating: 12A

The sadly lukewarm take-off for the first instalment of the Divergent series - based on the books by Veronica Roth – back in April last year didn’t really get the ball rolling for the expectedly huge franchise. However, the second of the trilogy Insurgent is guaranteed to take audiences by pleasant surprise.

The Divergent story follows Tris Prior (Shailene Woodley), a teenager living in a dystopian city divided into five factions based on virtues of the human personality. However, Tris and boyfriend Four (Theo James) don’t fit into just one faction, but in fact all five, making them an apparent threat to the peace of the city, and a wanted prize for ruthless leader of the Erudite faction, Jeanine (Kate Winslet). Together, Tris and Four go on the run, seeking refuge in the faction of Amity, planning a way to take down Jeanine and end the system once and for all - but Jeanine will do all in her power to prevent this from happening.

Unlike Divergent, Insurgent is the hot box-office smash that is finally going to turn Tris’ story into the worldwide phenomenon it was written as. From the minute the opening credits begin to roll, there is not one moment where the audience will be unentertained or checking their watch. Although a little cliché, cheesy and over-complicated in parts, one thing this movie is not is boring nor predictable. Even a rather unadventurous and basic script from Duffield and Goldsman can be overlooked, as with source material as original as Roth’s, there are so many twists, turns and didn’t-see-it-coming moments that you remain completely engaged regardless.

Woodley soars as the fiery Tris, attacking the character with resilience and fiest but also a depth and vulnerability which is what makes her so likeable as the lead role. The chemistry between her and Theo James’ Four is endearing, especially as the romance here serves as more of a side story than the head of the tale – which is a refreshing change. Additionally, a smaller yet just as riveting performance from the charming Miles Teller won’t go unnoticed – his ability to play an evil character yet still come out indisputably likeable is a talent.

Although not quite brilliant enough to succeed as the new Harry Potter or Lord Of The Rings franchise, the Divergent series will no doubt be a hit across the globe. With an outstanding cast, a captivating plot, clever graphics and crafty direction from Schwentke and his team – Insurgent is a very enjoyable watch, a rush of excitement and a scary thrill for adults, teenagers and kids worldwide.

(review of 2014's Divergent - http://mycinemajourney.blogspot.co.uk/2014/06/divergent-2014.html)

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Fifty Shades Of Grey (2015)

Starring: Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan, Jennifer Ehle
Directed by: Sam Taylor Johnson 
Written by: E.L James (novel) Kelly Marcel (screenplay) 
Genre: Drama, Romance 
Rating: 18

Having not jumped on the Fifty Shades Of Grey hype when the Twilight fanfiction turned multi-million dollar book franchise (E. L James) first emerged, people often query where my hatred of the series comes from. After learning what this phenomenon was about, I questioned how a story that was basically just about sex could take the world (albeit, mainly middle-aged women) by storm. “It’s porn for people in denial!” I’d tell my Mom, after swearing I’d disown her if she read the books. However, as I became more educated in feminist culture, my disgust with the franchise developed into a strong disagreement based mainly on the unhealthy concept of one man’s obsessive and creepy control over his female lover.

Since 2012, women all over the world have been swooning and drooling over Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan), the sexy billionaire who seduces the timid Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson), then introduces her to “his world” of bondage and S&M sex, asking her to sign a legal contract accepting to become his “submissive”. The film follows the pair as they try negotiate the terms of their relationship – if you can call sexual slavery a relationship – and that is pretty much all it is about.

This story was not intended to be as violating as it comes across. I understand that Fifty Shades Of Grey is a guilty pleasure for women and men who wish to indulge in something that is - apparently - the perfect balance of romance and pornography… but there is something very off-putting and offensive to watch - for me and surely others – about the way Mr Grey exercises his power over Anastasia. Whether this be in the bedroom or not, what I saw was a controlling boyfriend who wants full possession over his girlfriend, demanding she follow all of his rules and admit she is “his”. To me, this is not sexy or passionate, nor adorable or loving in any sense. It’s weird, unhealthy and undesirable, so this apparently “romantic” film became extremely uncomfortable to watch at times.

I tried to see past my disagreement with the storyline in general and focus on what was at hand. By no means do I want to watch a movie all about sex (I could just watch porn?) but this is a film about sex, so I expected to see sex and I expected to enjoy it. However, I was disappointed. You wouldn’t want to watch this film with your parents that’s for sure, but given the hype and the 18 rating, I wanted a bit more for my money. It was so boring. Johnson and Dornan depict a shallow chemistry and scenes (sex scenes included) simply drag. The best part was watching Johnson portray a hilariously drunk Ana as a character with spark and humour, however this was the first and last showing of that. Sadly, she fell back into the vapid female she was written as.

As far as sex films go (this was my first) I can’t say I am impressed. Similarly, as far as romance films go, if this is romance then there’s something seriously up. I tried to like this movie, but with its questionable storyline told in the dullest of ways, Fifty Shades Of Grey is arguably one of the most disappointing films to come out of cinema.

Monday, 5 January 2015

The Theory Of Everything (2015)

Directed by: James Marsh
Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones, Tom Prior
Written by: Anthony McCarten (screenplay), Jane Wilde Hawking (book)
Genre: Drama, biography, romance
Rated: 12A

What James Marsh delivers us with The Theory Of Everything, is a charmingly profound and earnest biopic of arguably, the most intelligent man on the planet – the brilliant physicist and bestselling author Stephen Hawking. Eddie Redmayne is at the forefront of this story with Felicity Jones at his side as Hawking’s first wife, Jane Wilde. Together, the two bring an incredibly endearing and heart-breaking tale to life, with flawless performances and an unbeatable chemistry, following Hawking’s struggle with the development of motor-neuron disease and Jane’s struggle with watching the man she loves turn into a less able version of himself, with a robotic voice and a life in a wheelchair.

Interestingly, The Theory Of Everything tells Hawking’s story from the perspective of Jane, with an honest script from Anthony McCarten based on Jane’s book Travelling To Infinity: My Life With Stephen. Although Redmayne is unbelievably believable as Hawking (if he doesn’t get an Oscar nomination I quit), it is Jones’ performance as Jane that really gives us an insight into the difficult yet brilliant relationship Hawking and Wilde had together. The real trauma we see here is not how Hawking coped with his disease, but it is how Jane coped with Hawking’s disease, over 30 years of marriage and the deliverance of three children along the way.

Redmayne presents Stephen with candour and a quiet eccentricity, introducing us to the man behind the science – a person of humour, honesty and most noticeably, strength. His performance is undeniably faultless, not once do you feel like Redmayne hadn’t pushed himself to both his mental and physical limits. Similarly, Jones tackles Jane’s resilient yet soft nature with grit and sincerity, delivering truly poignant scenes either with Redmayne or on her own. Although she is already a well-esteemed actress, her portrayal here is sure to make her a household name.

In ways, it is nice to get to know a side of Stephen that isn’t all about his scientific achievements, however these achievements are what made Stephen the legend he is today. If Marsh had drawn more emphasis on just how excellent his famous discoveries were, he would have made The Theory Of Everything exceedingly perfect, rather than just perfect. For those who are not all that ‘clued up’ on Hawking and his theories, this film falls short in teaching us, which is a shame - albeit a small one.

This movie tells the remarkable story of Stephen Hawking and Jane Wilde with dignity and heart, creating an outstanding biopic that shall live as a classic in years to come. An ordinary telling of two extraordinary lives, The Theory Of Everything is an almost impeccable, moving drama that is alleviated by strong performances, simplistic direction and inspirational messages that are bound to stick with audiences forever – “while there is life, there is hope”.

Monday, 29 December 2014

Unbroken (2014)

Directed by: Angelina Jolie
Starring: Jack O’Connell, Takamasa Ishihara, Domhnall Gleeson
Written by: Ethan and Joel Coen (screenplay), Laura Hillenbrand (book)
Genre: Drama, biography, sport

Angelina Jolie’s second film working behind the camera tells the traumatic and truthful tale of Louie Zamperini (Jack O’Connell), an Olympic US athlete turned World War 2 hero after a bomber jet crashes into the Pacific ocean leaving officer Louie and two more survivors (Domhnall Gleeson, Finn Wittrock) stranded at sea for 47 days, until they become rescued, captured and tortured by the Japanese as slaves at a POW camp.

Despite the heavy 137 minute length, at no point during Unbroken does your attention drift. From the word go, this wartime feature is incredibly captivating, and this is due to a range of successful decisions made by Jolie herself. The casting in this movie could not be more brilliant, with rising star O’Connell demonstrating absolutely unbelievable talent that will not go unrecognised. It’s hard to imagine another actor in this role as he takes you on an emotional journey that so effectively captures the raw nature of human spirit. Additionally, acting from Takamasa Ishihara as Watanabe “the bird”, a Japanese sergeant with a particular hatred for Louie, is terrifying and realistically chilling. Smaller roles from Garrett Hedlund and Domhnall Gleeson are also unforgettable. Think what you want about Unbroken, but one thing that cannot be knocked is the extremely skilled cast whom carry this movie until the very end.

However, Unbroken soars in other areas too. The Oscar-winning Coen brothers deliver a gritty script with the capacity to help the audience really feel the pain that Louie felt, and beautiful cinematography from Roger Deakins makes the movie easy on the eye.

Of course, any wartime movie is going to be ridden with clichés and overdramatized scenes. Although Jolie definitely emphasises this with her slightly try-hard directing, these faults are not unbearable in any sense and can definitely be overlooked, if not unnoticed. Perhaps once again it is O’Connell’s entrancing performance that distracts the audience from anything other than the strength of Louie’s character, and the real traumas of World War 2.

Unbroken is a beautiful homage to the late Louie Zamperini and is a film that I would encourage people of all ages to see. With its poignant message and educational story which I am sure many people are unaware of (me included), it is a movie bound to teach, inspire and encourage, something I think is very important for cinema.