The Light Between Oceans Review

I saw the trailer for The Light Between Oceans several months ago, and I wasn’t too interested. Romance films have never been my thing, but after hearing that Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander were starring, and Derek Cianfrance (director of Blue Valentine and The Place Beyond The Pines) was behind the film, my interest piqued up. Let’s see if these three can bring me into the genre.

The Light Between Oceans stars Michael Fassbender, Alicia Vikander, Rachel Weisz and Jack Thompson and is directed by Derek Cianfrance. The story follows lighthouse keeper Tom (Fassbender) and wife Isabel (Vikander), who are constantly trying for a baby with little success. One day a baby washes up on shore and they raise it as their own. A few years later the real mother comes looking for her baby.

The Light Between Oceans came to my attention due to the leads being two of my favourite actors, and neither of them disappoint. Fassbender is a man haunted by his role in World War One, which is conveyed through incredibly expressive eyes, empty and vacated, wanting to get away from the world. Vikander is the complete opposite, young and starry-eyed, with hopeful ideas of romance and having children. Their blossoming romance and chemistry is enrapturing and believable, making the first hour a joy to watch. But that joy is shattered when the film goes through not only one, but two miscarriage scenes, and both Vikander and Fassbender give heartbreaking performances during the same opening act. That dissonance should be something no film would be able to come back from, a tonal whiplash that would kill off any audience enjoyment, but the arrival of the baby in the dinghy both gives Isabel and the film a new lease on life, with the romance film now becoming something much more mature and harrowing to go through.

The cinematography is a highlight of the film. Adam Arkapaw, (another favourite creator of mine), the cinematographer of Macbeth and the first season of True Detective, creates some excellent compositions. Due to the film being about a lighthouse keeper, the surrounding landscapes are sand dunes and open ocean, easy work for a DP as accomplished as Arkapaw. It’s a film that revels in the wilderness of the island and seas, with Fassbender or Vikander standing small in the frame, just to show the expanse of nature in comparison to them and their lives. The music adds to the sense of loneliness. Created by Alexsandre Desplat, the score is simple but memorable, with either a lone piano or a few strings moving in and out of key scenes. It elevates several moments and really brings out the emotion by the end of the film.

There were a few moments I was a bit at odds with. The start of the film is chopped together rather quickly, with Tom’s initial three months on the island and courtship of Isabel being no more than fifteen minutes. It would have been nice to extend this out, instead of just the two leads falling in love with each other at the outset of the film. Another reason was the story. While the film has long extended sections of excellent drama, sometimes it would drop into Nicholas Sparks levels of melodrama and clichés. It was rather annoying that the film would build up and have emotional resonance, but then would fall because of a scene that we’ve seen a million times before. I know that it’s based off an original book (written by M.L. Stedman), but it could have been handled better.

All throughout 2016, I’ve been complaining that this has been a terrible year for films, full of unnecessary sequels and movies not quite living up to hype. But I think with The Light Between Oceans, I think I find myself coming round to the idea that 2016 has gotten better as we’ve gone through.

Score: 8/10 Striking, haunting and wonderfully performed.

Advertisements

Jason Bourne Review

This has been one of the films I’ve been waiting for. In a year of unnecessary sequels, we finally get to one that I have a small amount of interest in seeing. And with the last film in the series, The Bourne Legacy, being rather dull, it’s back to series greats Matt Damon and Paul Greengrass to give us a return to form. This is Jason Bourne.

Jason Bourne stars Matt Damon, Alicia Vikander, Vincent Cassel, Riz Ahmed and Tommy Lee Jones and is directed by Paul Greengrass. Set several years after The Bourne Ultimatum, the new film follows Jason Bourne (Damon) as he is roped back into conspiracies involving new CIA programmes.

I was really looking forward to Jason Bourne. The first three films I would say are some of the best action films to come out of 2000s and it’s made a lot of changes in how action films are created nowadays. But all throughout the film I couldn’t escape the fact that I just wasn’t interested with what was happening on-screen.

I’ll start with what I did like. The cast is a great ensemble, and certain actors (like Tommy Lee Jones as the Director of the CIA) fit straight into the world of Bourne. Vincent Cassel, who plays a CIA asset who has history with Bourne, is another character who again, fits right into the setting of secret assassins and conspiracies. But the standout is Alicia Vikander as CIA agent Heather Lee. Vikander plays her very ambiguously, with several layers of intrigue and menace, ready to do what is necessary to rise to the top of the Agency.

Sadly, that’s really all that’s either new or good in Jason Bourne. The fight scenes are one of my biggest gripes. While the originals were known for their quick cuts, at least they were clear. They would cut to a wide shot, allowing you to see the choreography. You could tell who was hitting who, you understand the geography of the fight. Here, that’s gone out the window. The final fight scene is ridiculously close-up, meaning you have no clue what is actually going on. The rest of the action is quite generic; a motorcycle chase here, a punch-up there, a big smashing-everything-up finale, it’s all rather dull in a series known for fantastical set pieces. I clocked out during the final ten minutes, I was just so disinterested.

The story is another low point of the film. Damon and Greengrass said they would return unless the script was good, but this one feels like a lacklustre one to return for. A lot of it feels like a retread of the earlier films, with several points ripped from one to the other. The main driving force of Bourne in this movie is something that was already explored in Ultimatum and the new stuff feels like a bit of ret-con of character motivations in earlier films. I won’t spoil anything, but one of the main revelations of this films had me shaking my head in the cinema, it was a vain attempt to make the continuity of the franchise seem rich and deep, when it fact it strips Bourne of much of his character arc of the original trilogy. There are some new ideas, which while timely, aren’t as fleshed out as they could be, leaving a couple questions unanswered.

In the end, Jason Bourne really let me down. It might be a tiny bit better than Legacy before it, but it get’s nowhere near the heights of the original series.

Score: 5/10 A low return of a once great franchise.

Now you’ve read my thoughts on Jason Bourne, why not check out my review of the rest of the series?

The Danish Girl Review

Films that deal with LGBT issues and characters hardly get a wide cinema release. Despite having entire film distribution companies devoted to the subject (Peccadillo Pictures for anyone interested), unless it’s something that has swept the pre-award/festival circuit, for example Blue Is The Warmest Colour or Carol then it hardly gets an audience. The Danish Girl has been on the festival run already, so now in cinemas, how does it fare?

The Danish Girl stars Eddie Redmayne, Alicia Vikander, Matthias Schoenaerts, Ben Whishaw and Amber Heard and is directed by Tom Hooper. Based on a true story, the film follows Lili Elbe, who was born as Einar Wegener, and was one of the first people to have sex reassignment surgery.

The actors and actresses throughout The Danish Girl are one of the reasons to go watch it. While there was controversy to begin with over whether the role of Lili should go to a trans actor, in the end the role went to Eddie Redmayne and he does a stellar job of laying both Einar and Lili. While watching I was reminded of the dual performance of Tom Hardy in last year’s Legend, and just like Hardy, Redmayne manages to create two very distinct characters, both with different mannerisms, goals and talents. It’s not even the physical differences of the wig and make-up that create the main difference, it’s all down to Redmayne’s ability as an actor.

The actress opposite Redmayne is Alicia Vikander, who plays Einar’s wife, Gerda. 2015 seemed to have been Vikander’s year, with several high-profile castings, all the way from blockbusters (The Man From U.N.C.L.E.) down to indie auteur pieces (Ex Machina) and just like her performances then, her performance in The Danish Girl is exceptional. Her portrayal of a woman who first made a game out of her husband’s identity issue, only for it to turn on her and wreck her marriage is heartbreaking. During the film she blames herself for losing her husband and asks Lili to turn back and “find” Einar and in the process shows a wide variety of emotions, which should definitely get her nominated during the award season.

In many respects, The Danish Girl plays much like a traditional love story, the only major difference here being is that one character is transgender rather that fitting into the male/female binary choice. Lili and Gerda still have intimate scenes even when Einar has “died” (Lili’s words) showing that it’s what’s on the inside that counts.

While watching, my enjoyment fluctuated majorly over the films run time. After thinking about it, I’ve pinned it down to the three act structure, with each act seeming to drag on for too long. The first act we see Einar becoming Lili, the second we see mainly Lili and then the third act where the reassignment surgery takes place. The film is easily broken into three parts, and each one starts strong before just dropping into a much slower gear or similar scenery to the rest of the film. While the second half of part two and the final third of the film are the best sections, getting to these points flips from one end of the scale to the other, with it being sometimes engaging and at other points incredibly pedestrian.

My other complaint of the film is that it’s rather too well constructed. Everything from the inch-perfect make-up to the dresses that Redmayne wears all feels a bit too overdone and artificial somehow. This, coupled with the sometimes overracting of the actors and actresses (not a fault of theirs, more to do with a sometimes flat and awkward script), it starts to become a bit too superficial, instead of delving into Lili’s mind it sits back and looks at her and her outfits.

In summary, The Danish Girl has some great actors and actresses at the helm, along with an acclaimed director, but it falls apart when it concerns itself with surface, and is redeemed when it gets back to the characters.

Score: 6/10 After the excellent 2015, 2016 is off to a steady start.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E Review

I love James Bond. I know it might sound a bit weird to open a non-James Bond film like that but hear me out. While I am a fan of Daniel Craig’s interpretation and modern portrayal of Ian Fleming’s famous character, I still harken for the days of Connery and Lazenby, with the Cold War being the backdrop for their spying escapades. Does The Man From U.N.C.L.E. give fans like me a new spy-related alternative?

The Man From U.N.C.L.E stars Henry Cavill, Arnie Harmer, Alicia Vikander, Hugh Grant and Jared Harris with Guy Ritchie both directing and writing. Based off the hugely successful TV show of the same name, the plot follows CIA agent Napoleon Solo (Cavill) teaming up with KGB agent Illya Kuriakin (Harmer) to thwart a rogue faction from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

Firstly the film looks gorgeous. Guy Ritchie knows how to operate a camera better than most directors working today, and the camerawork has a very old-skool vibe about it, strengthening the idea that this is a throwback to the early Bond adventures. After the dark streets of East Berlin, the films swiftly moves to Rome, with the sets having a glow around them, making it look and feel like a film that would have starred Audrey Hepburn if it had been made half a century ago. The movement of the camera is also worthy of praise for the making the film look as good as it is. The camera moves around effortlessly, soaking in the beautiful surroundings throughout the film and then the Ken Adam inspired sets near the middle of the film. The camera moves at just enough of a slow pace to let us appreciate the craft with which the film was made.

To focus on the actors, nearly everyone here is on top performance. Our two main leads, Cavill and Harmer are polar opposites of each other, with Cavill being the ever lovable rogue and Harmer the quiet and psychotic Russian who looks like he’s going to blow up at any point. The two actors bounce perfectly off each other, with some of the funniest parts of dialogue coming from their two different approaches to spying for their respective countries. The majority of the jokes coming from this dissonance between the two, including a hilarious sequence near the middle of the film that I won’t spoil here. Hugh Grant is his usual quintessential British self, with only Alicia Vikander turning in a sometimes wooden and emotionless performance.

Despite the aforementioned hilarious sequences, the gags aren’t always up to scratch. The jokes don’t always fall the right way leading to these awkward pauses during the film where they thought the audience was going to laugh. They happen periodically throughout the film, including a segment where Kuriakin is trying to show off his cover story to Vikander’s character, Gaby. It just feels a bit forced when the films is trying to push the jokes in where they have no weight to them, feeling like fluff to pass the time.

The fight scenes in the film are similar to the jokes in that there can be a huge divide in quality. While some fight scenes, including an early one between our two leads can have a nice Paul Greengrass-handheld camera look to them as well as getting to see some of Kuriakin’s Spock-like super attacks, most of the other fight scenes just devolve into quick cut close-ups of hands and bodies flying around, ending with most of the bad guys on the floor.

The main problem that I found with the film however is the bad guys. While we get an expository sequence at the beginning detailing who these people are and their actions, they never really have a powerful presence on screen or off it either. They just seem to be shells for our heroes to focus on. Their comeuppance at the end of the film feels very anti-climatic and it feels as if the writers realised they had a few too many loose ends at the end of the film and needed to quickly tie them all up before the credits.

In conclusion, The Man From U.N.C.L.E is a beautiful old world style spy film, filled with all the fun of an early James Bond film. And with an end credit sequence that hints at a promising new film franchise, it could be that Bond won’t be the only spy that the cinema adores.

Score: 8/10 A fun romp into the golden age of spies.

Ex Machina Review

Ex Machina marks Alex Garland’s first foray into directing, making the film his first “proper” auteur piece. And while the film’s exploration into the near-future of artificial intelligence is dark and unnerving (in that signature Garland way), it is unfortunate that it isn’t as good as the other films in the genre.

Ex Machina (coming from the Latin phrase Deus Ex Machina, meaning “God From The Machine”) is about a young IT intern named Caleb (played by Domhnall Gleeson) who after winning a prize from his company gets to spend a week with its reclusive owner Nathan (played by Oscar Isaac). It is during this week that Nathan shows off his newest invention to Caleb, an almost fully functioning AI called Ava (played by Alicia Vikander), who starts to interact with Caleb.

First off, I like Alex Garland. Whether it’s The Beach, 28 Days Later or even Enslaved: Odyssey To The West, the man knows how to write a compelling story, and that is one of Ex Machina’s strongest points. The dialogue spoken between our three leads (there are other characters but most of the film is spent within these three company) has been planned out methodically, with many references to science, art, religion and philosophy, with scientists such as J. Robert Oppenheimer and his infamous “I have become death” quote from the Bhavagad Gita being used or Nathan’s fascination with Jackson Pollock’s creative process. But fundamentally, that is also Ex Machina’s problem. It feels like a grab-bag of many ideas that it doesn’t get to carve out its own ideas on the genre, instead using other people and themes to parallel the characters in the film.

On to a more positive note, the acting in the film is top-notch, with Alicia Vikander performing a standout role as Ava. Her time spent as a ballet dancer can be seen throughout her movement in the film, to the point where it looks like she almost glides across the modernist sets. Oscar Isaac is also worthy of mention as Nathan, who seems to be reprising his role from The Two Faces of January, of a man who is devilishly charming yet there is something brewing under the surface. Domhnall Gleeson meanwhile, seems to be getting type casted in the quiet role again. He’s a perfectly fine actor in Ex Machina, but after About Time, Calvary and his stint in Black Mirror he does seem to be filling the role of a shy, socially awkward character, and it would be nice to see him branch out into a different role.

The film does present some of Garland’s signature unnerving moments, one scene that springs to mind is a montage when Caleb finally realises what Nathan is actually up to in his research facility and why he was integral to the creation of Ava, ending with a freeze frame of a security camera which shows a picture that is quite unsettling (no spoilers). Garland does these scenes well and they fit with the overall tone of the film, with the ending suitably Garland-esque, which stays with you long after the film has ended, leaving you pondering the aspects that were left hanging.

Overall, Ex Machina wants to be a film about big ideas, but comes off as not being as smart as it thinks it is. With the aforementioned Jackson Pollock painting and conversation about it (again no spoilers) becoming a recurring motif, or the fact that there are seven “sessions” of Ava coming to life (I see what you did there with the number Garland), it feels like there was something bigger waiting in the wings but then was never actually revealed.

This does however; signal the start of a trend in films, with Big Hero 6 before it and Chappie coming in March, 2015 seems to be the year of the Artificial Intelligence.

Score: 7/10, Interesting and laced with meaning, but feels like there is something lacking.