Inferno Review

The Dan Brown Robert Langdon series is one of the best-selling collections of novels in the world. And with most bestseller books, it got turned into a film. The Da Vinci Code came out ten years ago (yes, really that long ago!) and Angels And Demons came out in 2009. Now, ten/seven years later, a new chapter in the film series, Inferno.

Inferno stars Tom Hanks, Felicity Jones, Omar Sy, Irrfan Khan and Ben Foster and is directed by Ron Howard. The film follows once again Robert Langdon (Hanks) who is in race against time to stop a deadly virus from being released into the world, with the only clues being hidden in famous works of art all over Europe.

I was actually looking forward to Inferno. I’m not a Dan Brown fan, but the trailers got me interested. And for a time I was relatively enjoying myself. The film is set in Florence, but swiftly moves to Venice and Istanbul. We get several sweeping shots of the cities and Langdon and his accomplice Sienna (played by Felicity Jones) run around the tourist hotspots and talk about the architecture and paintings. While sometimes it sounds like Hanks and Jones are reading from “The Encyclopaedia Of Modern Art”, it was like a mini-holiday in the cinema. Apart from those little bits of the art, history and lovely settings, it really is bad.

While the screenplay is not written by Dan Brown, you can feel his influence all over the film. It’s not really a plot, but just lots and lots of melodramatic nonsense. Each scene adds more and more nonsense on top of the previous nonsense, then adds twenty billion twists and several flashbacks, and in the end it becomes a lot less interesting or compelling. Brown really has a contempt for his audience, the characters explain to each other in lengthy detail how certain plot contrivances happen, but then the films show the scene, again and again, even if it wasn’t integral to the plot. Inferno has no time for people wanting to infer anything other than what it wanted.

Tom Hanks does his usual “super-dad” role, although this time he’s read up on his European history and art. Every important place he visits, he gives a little Wikipedia summary of when it was built, who built it, what the paintings on the roof mean, what hand the painter used, where The Ark Of The Covenant is buried, and how many secret passages the palace/cathedral/museum has. Felicity Jones follows him from place to place, giving off a blank, wide-eyed stare, seemingly have lost all of her emotions before the film began. Ben Foster is the main villain of the piece but despite being one of the most charismatic actors around he has less than ten minutes of screen time.

Inferno started out really good. I really enjoyed myself for the first half, full of art and history and interesting puzzles and clues. But the rest of the writing, from the Shyamalan-worthy twists to the vaguely defined characters and motives, it made me shake my head in disbelief and laugh out loud on several occasions. If you are a fan of the other Dan Brown films then it could be fun, but for others, it’s probably a bit too silly for anything other than ironic hilarity.

Score: 4/10 The beautiful settings can’t save an already botched script.

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Qalupalik Review

Preface

During one of my first year university projects I had to research different ancient myths and stories. During my various searches I came across the Inuit legend of Qalupalik, a creature that lives in the sea and would take away children that would not obey their parents. I did some further reading and found there was a short film based on the legend, so I watched it and decided it was a fun one to review.

Review

Qalupalik (pronounced Ka-lu-pa-lik) stars Sam Tutatunak and is written, animated and directed by Ame Papatsie. The film follows a young Inuit boy named Angutii, who doesn’t help out around the camp. One day he is taken by the Qalupalik whilst playing on the shoreline.

Qalupalik is a traditional stop-motion film, and it’s art style is visually striking. The director Ame Papatsie (who is also the sole animator on the film) swaps between very bright blues, browns and whites for the human world and dark blacks and blues for the Qalupalik’s underwater world. It’s a very distinct change in the scenery but never feels jarring.

The animation is achieved through various techniques, sometimes small cut-outs are used to create a character while other times entire sections of cloth are used to be the underwater sea. These changing methods, while seeming odd the first time they are used together add to the odd quality of the Qalupalik’s surroundings and the wide open spaces of the Arctic Circle.

The main characters Angutii and his father have no facial features, each one is just a plain cut-out shape. The only character that has any definition is Qalupalik, with blood-red eyes, a pimpled face and large fangs, it highlights her grotesque features by giving none of the other characters any particular look. While the fact that we have no real connection with Angutti or his father because they are just a bland shell, it’s a perfect way for the film to say “This is Qalupalik’s film, we are going to focus on her.”

The sound design also helps characterise Qalupalik as a fabled monster. Whenever the film lingers on her, we hear a sound of wind chimes or a constant clinking, similar to Predator in… well, the film Predator. It’s creepy and unnerving to hear an unfamiliar sound being used as the call of a movie monster and is stays with you long after the film has ended. In conjunction with the sound design, the music that accompanies the film is spectacular. Inuit chanting is used at the beginning and the end of the film, making the film and the story feel much like a special ceremony that we get to look in on. Elsewhere, heavy bass drums and wooden sticks help build tension as the Qalupalik swims through the sea, and wind pipes play whenever Angutii looks out across the shore, highlighting his increased loneliness once he has been taken by the Qalupalik.

The narration, by Sam Tutatunak is a great addition to the film. Tutatunak’s deep bass voice adds to the feeling that this is a cautionary tale, told by elders to the young people of the tribe so that they are not taken by the Qalupalik. It’s got a nice ethereal quality, which also heightens the otherworldliness of the Qalupalik. The only real downside with this is that Tutaunak’s narration doesn’t contain any emotion, but it fits the story as a retelling of past events rather than a running commentary.

In conclusion, Qalupalik looks unlike any other film I’ve seen. It’s an interesting way to tell a story we’ve all heard a version of a thousand times before and has a great sense of knowing how to visually create a brilliantly grotesque monster.

Score: 7/10 Definitely one to watch if you’re interested in art or animation.

The link to the film is down below.

https://www.nfb.ca/film/nunavut_animation_lab_qalupalik

Woman In Gold Review

I can already tell this film is going to be at the Oscars for 2015. Let’s look at the facts. Is it a biopic? Yes. Does it have big name stars in the lead roles? Yes. Is it from a nearly unknown director? Yes. Those are the three things that make you virtually get given an Oscar, so let’s look at the rest of the film.

Woman In Gold is directed by Simon Curtis and stars Helen Mirren as Maria Altmann, Ryan Reynolds as her lawyer Randol Schoenberg and Daniel Bruhl as an investigative reporter, Hubertus Czernin. The film follows Maria and Randol, as they investigate and then legally battle for a painting of Maria’s aunt, the titular Woman in Gold, stolen by Nazi’s which is currently being held in the Belvedere Gallery in Vienna.

When I first heard about Woman In Gold, I was a bit sceptical. Of course Helen Mirren is known for her “talkie” films, yet Ryan Reynolds is not known for his serious drama work. I was thinking it was going to be, to borrow another reviewer’s phrase, “Meg Ryan is a helicopter pilot” all over again. Yet Reynolds pulls off the lawyer role, in one of his strongest roles yet. Helen Mirren as well does a role she could do in her sleep, although her Austrian accent drops in and out of the film. Daniel Bruhl is his usual lovable self, although doesn’t really add anything to the overall plot in the film, he just drops in to add a few titbits of information and expertise. And it’s always nice to see Jonathan Pryce in films, even though if his role consists of barely five lines and ten seconds of action.

The story is a dual narrative, with Tatiana Maslany playing a younger Maria during the initial stages of the Austrian invasion and then cutting to present day now and again. It makes the film one of two halves though, one part historical drama and the other a sort-of courtroom drama (since we hardly spend time in the courtroom yet have many discussions between lawyers), but around two thirds into the film the historical part ends and we are firmly rooted in the courtroom, until the final few scenes transport us back to Maria’s final moments in Austria. It has a similar resemblance to Russian Ark, and I know that is the most obscure reference that could be ever made but it does draw similar styles to Alexander Sokurov’s masterpiece. (If you haven’t seen Russian Ark then please find a way to watch it, it’s a marvel of filmmaking.) The final scene is a beautiful montage sequence of Helen Mirren’s Maria walking through all of the historical Maria scenes we have previously watched, with a small addendum to one of them, which is easily the most emotional scene in the film even making me nearly shed a tear.

The film, like all other films, has some problems. At 109 minutes the film feels a bit overly long, with some pointless scenes that were added for historical accuracy. Another problem I had with the film is with its use of foul language. The BBFC at the beginning of the film labelled it a 12A for “infrequent strong language”, yet there is only one word in the entire film that could constitute that. My problem with it was that it wasn’t needed, it didn’t add anything to the scene or the film and if it wasn’t included then the film could have moved down to a PG, which I think would have been good since I believe this is a film an entire family should watch at some point. Some characters are glossed over as well, such as Maria’s husband Fritz (played by Max Irons) or Randol’s stay at home wife Pam (played by Katie Holmes). Apart from a few lines from Helen Mirren, we hardly find out about what happened to Fritz at the end of the historical part of the film and we only see Katie Holmes in conjunction with her on screen husband.

In summary, Woman In Gold takes both the historical drama and a small bit of the courtroom drama and adds them together to create a thought provoking and moving real life tale about identity and lineage.

Score: 7/10 Just like the eponymous painting, Woman in Gold is a worthy piece of cinematic art.