Thursday, 25 January 2018

MOVIE REVIEW: CROOKED HOUSE


8/10

Last year had one of the arguably best books of Agatha Christie MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS being released, boasting a big budget and an impressive acting ensemble. There was a much quieter release of CROOKED HOUSE, about a family whose public profile is threatened by its patriarch's murder, without a doubt committed by one of the family members. Penned by DOWNTON ABBEY’s Julian Fellows, and directed by a Frenchman Gilles Paquet-Brenner, whose speciality is to direct big stars in smaller films, CROOKED HOUSE has all the qualities of a period drama, full of romantic innuendos, Femmes Fatales and soaked in dark Victorian atmosphere.

I have been a big fan of Agatha Christie since I was a child. My mother read me THE MURDER OF ROGER ACKROYD when I was only six and everything I learned about plot and character building is from her books. During her career Agatha Christie created a few twists than no one had ever done before her and other authors used them extensively long after she was gone. The first is “the unreliable narrator”, the second is “the victim is the killer”, the third is “the detective is the one who did it”. And there is the CROOKED HOUSE twist, where the mystery revelation is such a punch in the gut that no one has really repeated it ever since (or dared to repeat it I should say). This one thing is worth watching the movie for if you are not going to read the book (which is always a better option).

I think the ending and the family setting (similar to Downton Abbey) is what attracted Julian Fellows. The cast may be arguably better than the one in last year’s ORIENT EXPRESS: Glenn Close, Terrence Stamp, Gillian Anderson – all have time to shine. The atmosphere of a cosy mystery and snappy dialogue is better built for TV, and this is why the movie did not get widespread cinema release. Running for two hours the film grows on you, delivering interesting characters that will stay with you long after the credits roll. As a fan of the novel I was pretty happy with this adaptation: it held the spirit of the book and even improved on the character relationships, making them more cinematic. It does not boast the budget of Kenneth Branagh’s ORIENT EXPRESS, but in its own right and in my opinion is a better and more focused version of a much darker Christie novel.

The film is to be released in Australia on BLU RAY this February (final date is to be confirmed). 

Sunday, 21 January 2018

HORROR MOVIE REVIEW: VERONICA


7/10

Based on a real criminal case from 1991, VERONICA is the story of a girl besieged by a demon only she could see, and her desperate efforts to protect her family. Growing up too quickly 16 year old Veronica has to look after her two young sisters and a baby brother. Her father is deceased and her mother is constantly at work, sleeping in late after the night shift. They live in a derelict apartment block, but the apartments are large and oddly shaped, which adds to the creepy settings when the story gets dark.

Trying to reach out to her dead father Veronica and her two best friends arrange a séance with a Ouija board. Coinciding with the solar eclipse their game turns dangerous when something “from the other side” seems to slip in to our world. As things start spiralling out of control Veronica tries to do what she does best – keep her family together by any mean possible. But is that new challenge just too hard to bear?

The cult director of Spanish horror cinema Fernando Navarro (REC movies), returns to his horror roots after the second sequel to the REC franchise was more of a comedy than horror. There’s no hint of humour in VERONICA, where the the light and the detail are so real you can almost smell the dusty city the characters live in. An electronic soundtrack is reminiscent of the films of the eighties and the monstrous creatures that inhabit the film are always a little out of focus, out of sight, as if no matter how hard we try we can only see them from the corner of our eye.

VERONICA re-invents jump scares, making them effective again, and there are a few in the film. The simplicity of the story is its strongest point. Plot-wise Veronica does not have much going for it – there’s nothing new for those who had seen Conjuring and Insidious movies. But what it lacks in originality in replenishes in heaps by the authenticity and the atmosphere.


VERONICA could have been something truly special if it was created in post-Conjuring world. As it is, the movie is a curious horror piece from Spain that is convincing, solidly made and very scary.

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

MOVIE REVIEW: THE SHAPE OF WATER

6/10

It’s the 1960s. Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins) works night shifts as a cleaner at a secret government facility. She cannot speak because of a childhood trauma, but it does not stop her from having friends: another cleaner – chatty Octavia (Zelda Fuller)  and a gay neighbour Giles (Richard Jenkins). When a strange sea creature enters the facility and is held captive, Elisa can relate to his situation – she is as much of an outsider and a sort of a prisoner in her own skin. When the amphibious man is about to be exectuted Elisa has no other choice but to plan a daring escape. It is time for both of them to break free. But what is the price they’ll have to pay?


I can say many wonderful things about the film – the Alexander Desplat score is a marvel, the acting of everyone involved is top notch (Zelda Fuller is a scene stealer) and the cinematography is breathtaking. But however amazing the visuals of THE SHAPE OF WATER are, underneath it all is a very simple story. Don’t get me wrong, this is a visually inventive, well acted and engaging film, but did I find the plot predictable? Yes, oh yes.  In particular, it strikes as being generic to those who know Del Toro films well. The love between the two outcasts, the psychotic villain and a sea creature – it’s like the cast of HELLBOY decided to participate in a much smaller project.

THE SHAPE OF WATER is an unapologetically violent (Del Toro has a definite fascination with disturbing facial wounds) and at the same time is full of weird erotics that you wouldn’t see anywhere else. It is also a relatively compact movie with only a few locations, and has a theatrical vibe to it. 

THE SHAPE OF WATER has many ingredients (including musical). The creature’s design, that took 9 months to develop is majestic, but for me personally is heavily inspired by the design of E.T. (just like ET’s, his body lights up from inside upon touching). The story itself is also reminiscent of the Spielberg classic movie. Many of the aspects of the plot seem improbable or illogical even for a fantasy film and the horrible Russian accent of the Soviet spies seriously affected my enjoyment of the movie (details like this, in my opinion, should be done right or not at all. There was no particular reason for these characters speaking Russian in the first place. 

To sum it up, THE SHAPE OF WATER intrigued me, engaged me and frustrated me all at once. But I must stop complaining. Maybe this is what a good director should be getting out of the viewer?