Posts Tagged ‘drama’

In a nutshell: Hammer horror goes ghostly in style

Pocorn rating: 4/5

A Hammer fan since the age of 13, I was hugely excited to learn that the iconic British film company was adapting Susan Hill’s shudderingly creepy classic ghost story, The Woman In Black. Then I heard they’d cast Daniel Radcliffe in the lead role, and I was nervous. Not that I have anything against the lovely eager-faced Potterboy, but surely this film was for grown-ups? And knowing it had a 12A rating didn’t help. Any film that under 12s can watch provided they’re with their mum* just couldn’t be that scary, I thought.

HA! How wrong was I?

The Woman In Black, like the best of Hammer’s early output, is a lushly atmospheric Victorian Gothic period piece that, during the showing I attended, had half the audience yelping in fear and saw popcorn liberally be-scattered about the aisles where hapless young wusses had literally jumped out of their seats. Moreover, Radcliffe is really rather good as a young widower trying to do the best by his little boy, and turns in a thoroughly convincing and sympathetic performance throughout.

Much as Hammer used to take substantial liberties with Bram Stoker and Mary Shelley in their golden years, they’ve done away with plenty of Susan Hill’s plot here: The Woman In Black diverges considerably from the book, and it doesn’t really have the understated feel of the novel. What it does have is imaginatively-staged scares by the spadeful and a nice line in gloomy Gothic melodrama as this traditional haunted house tale gradually unfurls before us. There’s almost no gore, hence the 12A rating, but it’s still deeply gruesome in tone, relentlessly spooky, and full of serious make-you-jump moments. Plus, there are some genuine shocks – if you’re confident that cute kids in jeopardy always escape the worst in horror films, think again.

Subtlety isn’t the film’s strongest point – there are only so many times you can be shown a creepy clockwork Victorian monkey toy before you just want to giggle – but there are moments of quirky humour that work remarkably well, and the film overall is well-executed and beautifully shot – bleak estuary marshes, dank mists and all. Plus, like all the greatest Hammer films, it has a fine supporting cast of stalwart English character actors and even one of those brilliant scenes where a cheery young chap enters a local village pub and finds that something is clearly Not Quite Right.

All in all, great spooky fun, and you’ll never look at a rocking chair in the same light again. But really, don’t be fooled by the rating: avoid taking your nine-year-old unless you actively want them to be wetting the bed and sleeping with the lights on into their mid-teens.

*In fairness, I actually went to see it with my mum, and I’m 36.

Reviewer: Jo Sheppard

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In a nutshell: Hollywood’s take on Larsson’s dark masterpiece

Popcorn rating: 4/5

Who would have thought a series of novels by a late Swedish author could have caused such a stir?  More than 20 million people have read Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy and the original films proved to be among Sweden’s most successful.

Now it’s Hollywood’s turn at the girl with that tattoo, with David Fincher in the director’s chair.

Many have questioned the purpose of remaking The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.  The 2009 original directed by Niels Arden Oplev was critically acclaimed and of its place . The remake will therefore no doubt spark a debate about our reluctance to read subtitles.

Nevertheless, Fincher is a perfect fit for the dark yet captivating subject matter, channelling his experience from his previous thrillers like Seven and Zodiac.

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo tells the story of disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) as he investigates the disappearance of a teenager some forty years ago.  He is aided by the enigmatic computer-hacker Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) in the seach to uncover secrets which will ultimately threaten their lives.

A word of advice is needed for those new to the Millennium story – be prepared.  The core of the film is a classic ‘whodunnit’ but there’s a darker edge to the film with many scenes of sexual violence. This is an important addition, helping to shape the plot and characters, but it is graphic and abhorrent.

Indeed, the original name for the story is Men Who Hate Women and the book’s themes were inspired when a teenage Larsson witnessed a rape and was too frightened to intervene.

But this should not put anyone off because the film features redemption on many levels, particularly for anti-hero Lisbeth.  The character, one of cinema’s most interesting in years, is played almost perfectly by newcomer Rooney Mara.  It is almost on a par with Noomi Rapace’s groundbreaking portrayal in the Swedish versions.

Mara introduces a vulnerable side to Lisbeth – a welcome new dimension to the damaged character. Daniel Craig also works hard to hang up his 007 tuxedo to play an everyman.

Although it’s a little jarring and confusing to see Americans playing Swedish characters it’s worth suspending your disbelief as this is worthy adaptation.

Reviewer: DavidMorgan

In a nutshell: The end of the world as he knows it

Popcorn rating: 4/5

Curtis LaForche is haunted by visions of apocalypse. The devoted father and husband (Michael Shannon) is plagued by nightmares which seem so real to him, they cause him to question his sanity. As the viewer, this proves to be an immersive but troubling experience as you feel yourself sinking down the rabbit hole with him.

Don’t expect any fire and brimstone here though. Curtis’s visions prove terrifying simply because they are feasible. He sees hurricanes, tornadoes and birds falling out of the sky and, as this external danger gets ever closer, those closest turn against him in his dreams.

Curtis is a proud man and when professional help fails to hit the mark, he renovates his storm shelter to protect his family from what he perceives to be the end of the world. In doing so he ends up alienating everyone around him including his best friend, brother, boss, patient but frustrated wife Samantha (Jessica Chastain) and even his dog. This is small town America where your standing in community is everything and, as you can imagine, sparks soon begin to fly.

Much praise has been heaped on Michael Shannon (last seen in HBO’s Boardwalk Empire) and he deserves every bit of it. His ability to show great anguish without saying a word is amazing.

Take Shelter is also slightly reminiscent of Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island with both featuring a very intimate take on someone losing their mind.

Many have equated director Jeff Nichols’ Take Shelter as a portrayal of the modern American psyche but in truth anyone can relate to this. It could also be seen in terms of a metaphor for the state of economy. Who hasn’t wanted to batten down the hatches during the credit crunch?

Put simply, Take Shelter is an accomplishment in terms of reminding you of the pure power of cinema to evoke feelings, from empathy to dread. And the final scene is suitably open-ended which keeps you thinking long after the credits roll.

Reviewer: DavidMorgan

In a nutshell: Freezing time, talking cats…and everyday life

Popcorn rating: 3.5/5

The Future may feature a cat that can talk and man who can freeze time and chat to the moon. But believe it or not, Miranda July’s second film isn’t that detached from reality.

Despite the supernatural elements, this story is really about common problems, like being scared of commitment and lacking ambition and direction. At one time or another, we’ve all been guilty of avoiding our problems or swerving around them. July takes these components of everyday life and magnifies them before giving them a twist – but you can still relate to it…sort of.

Sophie (July) and Jason (Hamish Linklater) are an oddball couple who decide to they are ready to adopt a stray cat called Paw-Paw, who is also voiced by July. But the cat has an injured paw and the pair have a month to wait until he is in a fit state before they can take him home.

With just 30 days of ‘freedom’ remaining, Sophie and Jason decide to quit their jobs, as a dance instructor for kids and IT help desk man, to fulfil their dreams. Jason attempts to save the world one tree at a time and Sophie ends up in the arms of another man.

Meanwhile, Paw-Paw shares his thoughts with the audience on his lonely existence in a cage and dreams of a life with company and comfort. It is a delight for feline fans but obviously this is incredibly quirky and weird and not for everyone. It is also a lot more sad than anticipated.

And what of stopping time? To say more would be to give too much away but the scene is the most bizarre yet somehow touching and poignant. It will remind you of all those moments you wished you could freeze a moment.

Reviewer: DavidMorgan

In a nutshell: Thoughtful yet chilling – a worthy companion to the novel.

Popcorn rating: 4/5

Don’t expect any easy answers in We Need To Talk About Kevin.

The film, based on Lionel Shriver’s award-winning novel of the same name, may be about a high school massacre where the culprit is known, but, as the credits roll, your mind will still be ringing with questions about who’s to blame.

Morvern Callar director Lynne Ramsay stamps her unique style on the feature with an evocative and harrowing interpretation of the book.

But what is also brilliant is the cast. Ezra Miller is chilling as teenager Kevin and Tilda Swinton is exceptional as his troubled mum Eva. To a large extent, this is Eva’s story and Swinton’s solid performance is really what gives weight to the film.

Through a series of jumbled present-day sequences and flashbacks – which replace the letters to her husband in the book – you gradually start to see the deconstruction of Eva’s life. Expect painful contrasts between her past life in middle class comfort and her woes in the present day as she is demonised on a daily basis.

You can’t help but feel sympathetic as Eva is constantly stared at and even attacked by members of the victims’ family who hold her responsible. But is she a victim? After all, Eva was a free spirit and it is made abundantly clear she never wanted to be a mum. Her trips around the world are replaced by dirty nappies and a job in a travel agency. Eva feels trapped and you see stages in Kevin’s upbringing where he isn’t given the love and care by her that he probably needs. Then again, Kevin is clearly damaged and disillusioned in much deeper ways than a parent’s neglect, as the film puts a good case forward for the nature versus nurture argument.

We Need To Talk About Kevin is one of those odd films where you know the outcome before it happens but it doesn’t make it any less hard hitting or thought provoking. A haunting work, it is almost a companion piece to Gus Van Sant’s haunting and similarly themed Elephant.

 Reviewer: DavidMorgan

In a nutshell: Mean, moody and nameless takes a drive

Popcorn rating: 4.5/5

Don’t know about you but there’s something about a movie with fast cars and big action that brings out my inner child. One minute I’m sitting there, wittering on about the inherent beauty of Terrence Malick’s cinemtaograhy like Mark Cousins (but without an annoying voice) then the movies starts and a few minutes later, there I am, screaming “Drive muthaf**ka, drive” like some demented redneck from a 1980s B movie.

Anyway, confessions over. ‘Cos Drive ain’t that kind of driving movie. Oh it’s got cars and violence and shiny jackets and stuff but this Ryan Gosling vehicle, is more of the thinking gal’s driving movie. See, underneath all the action, there is a bittersweet love story all mixed in with a nail biting thriller.

As if the intricacies of the script weren’t enough, visually Drive is stunning. Each shot composed with beauty, an eye for detail, for making the most of the slightly off kilter. In fact the opening scene say it all – as the camera pans across the City of Angels at night, lights vibrant against the glittering black tower blocks, a thumping electro pop soundtrack practically makes you want to go outside, get into your own car and just drive like crazy.

Directed by the excellent Nicolas Winding Refn, Drive’s central character is a nameless stunt driver/mechanic (Gosling) who hires himself out as a getaway driver to earn some extra bucks. A laconic, unreadable character, the driver carries out each getaway with a professional precision that speaks a thousand words. Job over, it is back to his mundane, achingly lonesome life.

Of course, there is only so much planning ahead you can do so, when he breaks his own rules, gets emotionally involved and things go drastically wrong on a heist, the driver finds himself with a bag of cash belonging to a local mobster, a contract on his head and only one way to turn.

Drive is unflinching in its portrayal of life, and of violence. Every crunch of bone, every splatter of blood, every unspoken disappointment is on screen. Surprisingly, this doesn’t make Drive difficult or sad to watch but rather, as the credits roll, you realise just how much this small snapshot of another’s life has resonated with your own.

As the movie blurb says, some heroes are real.

Reviewer: Curlyshirley

In a nutshell: Bizarre yet absorbing…yep, typical Almodovar

Popcorn rating: 4.5/5

Skin suits and abuse. A man dressed as a carnival tiger. These are just some of the striking moments in the opening scenes of The Skin I Live In. It is bizarre, frightening and claustrophobic yet completely absorbing and slightly reminiscent of the style of Stanley Kubrick in A Clockwork Orange.

World famous Spanish director Pedro Almodovar ventures into very familiar territory yet there is more urgency and tension here than his usual work. The film tells the story of pioneering plastic surgeon Robert Ledgard (Antonio Banderas) who creates a completely lifelike yet almost indestructible synthetic skin.

Ledgard has been twisted by the tragic death of his wife and daughter and a mysterious woman Vera (Elena Anaya) is held captive as his experiments continue. It might sound like the stuff of a horror film but it is more haunting and thought-provoking than anything else.

The tricky element of reviewing The Skin I Live In is that to say much more would be to give the plot away. There is a major twist which is revealed about half way through but you’ll probably still be stunned as a the credits roll.

Praise goes to Almodovar for making the film he set out to without compromise and making an outlandish scenario seem feasible. You get the real sense this wouldn’t have worked with any other director.

Reviewer: DavidMorgan