Saturday, 16 September 2017

MOVIE REVIEW: mother!



8/10

A husband and wife live as recluses in an old house in the middle of the nowhere. He is fighting his writing block, she is redecorating the house. Time moves slowly, until, in the middle of the night, there’s a knock at the door.

mother! was advertised as a horror movie, boasting a similar premise to Rosemary’s Baby, with a deranged husband and the sect that invade their private life. In fact mother! is something else entirely.

The film’s intriguing beginning immediately suggests it has a touch of the supernatural, but when a strange man (Ed Harris) enters the house in the middle of the night it moves into all too familiar home invasion movie territory. When the intruder’s chatty and not so classy wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) shows up on the front porch the next day things get darkly interesting. As the second half of the film kicks in, it becomes obvious where things are going. From that point on the movie's supposed unpredictability becomes its greatest flaw.

The film has fantastic performances. Javier Bardem, Jennifer Lawrence, Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer (seeing her in a new role is particularly great!)  are all in top form. The emotions they are trying to convey are easy to relate to, but it is hard to place them in the context of the plot. There are so many elements in the film that mean or, maybe, don’t mean anything, that pop up into your head long after the credits roll. But as soon as you work out the main idea behind the plot you start figuring out the little clues and it’s a fun game to play. mother! is a film that keeps on giving. And unlike some of David Lynch’s movies there is a structure and a point to it all.

mother!, however, is more frustrating than fascinating, especially for those who came to see a horror film. It is provocative rather than thought provoking. At some point Arnofsky throws the plot-writing manual out of the window, but the disappointment comes when we realize the story he is telling is far too conventional.

I will finish with a riddle:
mother! is not a horror movie, but it is based on the scariest book ever written. It is an international bestseller. I will even give you another clue: it is not written by Stephen King! 

If you solve this riddle you will know the secret of mother!

Sunday, 27 August 2017

MOVIE REVIEW: DEATH NOTE


8/10

Light Turner is an intelligent high-schooler with a strong sense of justice. When a cursed notebook ends up in his hands he realizes that he can change the world. A name written in the book will cause the person’s death. Light quickly tests the book on the high school bullies and then turns to bigger fish – the serial killers, terrorists, child molesters… soon the world knows him as a famous god of death -  KIRA. But what is the point of being a superhero if you cannot share your secret with anyone? Is the enigmatic Mia, Light’s classmate, a suitable candidate? Has Light  finally found his soul-mate or is it the biggest mistake of his life?

Mia’s and Light’s relationship is tested when a mysterious detective only known as L starts closing in on them...

When thinking about the last adaptation of Japanese manga DEATH NOTE, “stylish” is the first word that comes to mind. The material has already been turned into two very successful movies in its home country, one an anime series and one a live action tv series. The American flavored 2 hour Netflix redo is faithful to the original, while bringing a lot of visual candy and suspense on to its plate. The original DEATH NOTE had never really been a horror series. Focusing on the duel of two minds, instead of action, manga mostly consists of conversations, and the murders, while disturbing, happen mostly “off-screen”. Director Adam Wingard (the man behind my all time favorite “YOU ARE NEXT”) turns the kills of DEATH NOTE into Final Destination inspired death traps. It is gory and effective. Horror fans will not be disappointed.

Racing at incredible pace the well constructed script brings in set pieces that threaten the atmosphere of the original. The final scene, with the crashing down ferris wheel, could only be born in the mind of a teenager who likes blockbuster movies. But as the final revelation comes it actually makes perfect sense.

The movie has different takes on the main characters from the source material. While Light is given more humanity and indecisiveness, the world’s greatest detective L takes a walk on the dark side. And Demon Ryuk, Light’s sidekick, and the original owner of the deadly notebook, has much more power here, and has a much more evil presence. He always remains the real monster and manipulator, while in the manga this role is given to Light.

Spending years of my life reading the original story, waiting for the new weekly installments as they were released in Japan, I was not disappointed with this NETFLIX incarnation of DEATH NOTE. The script is overloaded but inspired, the action fits perfectly into the story, giving it a blockbuster quality, and the performances from the main trio – Light, Mia and L were top notch. Special mention goes to William Defoe as monster Ryuk – these CGI performances will soon have a special category in the  Oscar nominations.

This DEATH NOTE would have been a perfect adaptation if not for an abrupt ending. This is the rare case where a film would have benefited from a longer running time. 


Thursday, 17 August 2017

TV SHOW REVIEW: TOP OF THE LAKE: CHINA GIRL


7/10

A suitcase with the unidentified body of an Asian woman is found on Bondi beach. Detective Constable Robin Griffith, who returns under a cloud of internal police investigation, is on the case. It becomes clear that the suspicious death is somehow connected to a local sex venue and a man nicknamed “Puss”. This 42 year old is the lover of Robin’s long lost daughter Mary. Focusing on the underbelly of Sydney sex venues and illegal surrogacy, CHINA GIRL is about motherhood. Who is the real mother? The one who gave you your life? Or the one who raised you?

The second season of TOP OF THE LAKE : CHINA GIRL is an odd animal. Building up an interesting premise it does not deliver on any level, but is utterly addictive for a reason I struggle to define. It has the magnetic atmosphere of Scandinavian noir. Shot in a washed out pallet it is the coldest Sydney you had ever seen on screen. 

The reason to enjoy the series is the performances.  Elizabeth Moss has mastered the expression of emotional pain. Here she is presented as a rather weak character, someone unable to protect herself, and finds her inner strength only towards the end.  Nicole Kidman is spot on as an upper class feminist (although she does not have the screen time that her character deserves) and Alice Englert delivers a perfect mix of vulnerability and strength to her young adult character of Mary. This could have been a disastrous performance for a lesser actor, considering the script at hand. Englert is the star to watch!

The story unfolds with menacing slowness. There is a feeling that something terrible is about to happen, but it takes its time. The plot leads to some unexpected turns of events, but here, unexpected means unwanted. It is hard to watch the finale without frustration - do not hold your breath for big revelations from the so-called murder mystery. It really is a slap in the face.


The best way to describe CHINA GIRL is “experimental”. It uses all the familiar plot devices, overuses coincidences, the story is totally improbable and yet… it is still believable as the writers and directors make it so. Rivalling the frustrating experience of watching the new season of Twin Peaks (both seasons of TOP OF THE LAKE heavily borrow from this show), CHINA GIRL makes all the wrong choices, but remains a compelling, if not satisfying, TV series that make you think.

Friday, 4 August 2017

MOVIE REVIEW: WAR OF THE PLANET OF THE APES



8/10

It's been years since the super flu wiped out most of the human population and made apes smart. Cesar and his tribe are looking for a new home, while being relentlessly attacked by human soldiers. When the leader of the humans, a self proclaimed dictator known as The Colonel, goes too far, Cesar and his best mates are in pursuit, to exact revenge. This fatal journey leads them straight into peril…

The third and the seemingly final installment of THE APES trilogy is an epic conclusion, and like its predecessor it focuses on human (or rather ape) drama more than action. Here is an extremely well written movie that does not shy away from exploring the darkest sides of humanity.

WAR is a particularly grim film. It is bleak, violent and often scary. After the explosive action of the opening scene the story becomes a slow burn, further exploring the character of Cesar who is constantly questioning his moral choices and is riddled with doubt and regret. Is he becoming a villain himself? The final confrontation with The Colonel, his latest nemesis, is more a struggle of wills than a physical battle and is resolved in a rather unexpected way.

Putting accent on suspense rather than on action, the film explosively culminates with an over the top set piece - a welcome and satisfying conclusion to the heart wrenching drama of the last hour of the film. 

The funny moments are few but are top notch. The comic relief comes from the character of Bad Ape, a chimpanzee created by actor Steve Zahn. He is proof that a CGI mask cannot conceal a great performance. 


WAR OF THE PLANET OF THE APES has many nods to bigger and arguably better films, such as Apocalypse Now, but it has its own dark beating heart. Being a perfect conclusion to a thought provoking SCI FI trilogy, it delivers both -  eye candy and food for the mind.

Monday, 3 July 2017

NETFLIX MOVIE REVIEW: OKJA


10/10

In the near future there's shortage of food on the planet. A solution comes in the form of Okja - a genetically modified pig who is raised in the Korean mountains, far from civilisation. There Okja befriends Mija, a young girl who becomes Okja’s only family. The idyllic life in the mountains abruptly ends when the company men, who own Okja, come back for their trophy. As Okja is kidnapped Mija follows her to Seoul and then to New York. In her quest to bring Okja home, she will stop at nothing, even making a deal with “the devil”.

OKJA was the first Netflix movie that competed for the Palme D’Or at Cannes this year and it’s no wonder that  it had the ambition to do so. With its Disney cutesy-pie premise it does not flinch from showing the dark side of life. This is definitely not a family type movie, with many gory and unsettling moments. In fact OKJA is one of those few movies that does not clearly define its target audience. How very Korean of it!

I have been a champion of Korean cinema for more than a decade now and OKJA is proof that an unusual movie can get a world-wide appreciation. OKJA does not pretend for a second that it is there for more than to entertain, but when the choice comes between another action set piece or dramatic element, it always chooses the latter. The director Bong Joon Ho is a household name in Korea. His monster movie “THE HOST” made a big splash all around the world, allowing him to shoot a blockbuster “THE SNOWPIERCER”, a post apocalyptic thriller with Chris Evans, Ed Harris and Tilda Swinton. His films were always a combinations of genres, allowing for unique storytelling. OKJA is no exception.

The movie boasts some great performances. The focus is on Tilda Swinton as a CEO of a conglomerate corporation who is trying to suppress her psychotic tendencies, but by doing so only making things worse for the world, and Jake Gyllenhaal is unrecognisable as an evil Steve Irwin type of animal lover celebrity. They both are a pleasure to watch.


With its sensitive subject matter the movie never falters, always keeping the balance of scary, dramatic, cute and sad. In the the age of superhero movies, it is refreshing to see a film, where the protagonist is not trying to save the world, but one life instead. OKJA manages to ask big questions without compromising on action, drama and adventure. And this is what makes it a worthy movie experience.