Martyrs Review

Preface

Cinema as a medium is great. I don’t just mean for the fantastic stories, the heartfelt emotions and all the rest, but I think one of the main reason people love cinema is spectacle. So many people have seen The Human Centipede or A Serbian Film, not because they were looking for some rich story or characters, but mainly for the increasingly horrid spectacle put on screen. And now, a review for one of the worst I’ve seen, Martyrs. It’s been remade and is slated for an October release, so I wanted to review the original.

Review

Martyrs stars Morjana Alaoui and Mylene Jampanoi and is directed by Pascal Laugier. The film follows Anna (Alaoui) who tries to help her friend Lucie (Jampanoi) who was psychically and psychologically abused as a child.

I heard about Martyrs on a list of “Horror Film For Beginners”. Martyrs was listed as one of the last films to watch, under the title of “only for the hardcore”. So naturally I went and watched it, to see what could deem a film only for those brave or stupid enough to go and watch. A damn, what a film.

Martyrs starts off so clichéd. Young girl, history of abuse, orphanages, friends in need, if you’ve seen practically any horror film from the last two to three years, they’ve used at least one of these tropes, it’s one of the those perpetual bread and butter’s of horror cinema. After the opening though…argh, I don’t want to spoil it. I don’t want to divulge too much, because this is a horror film that is built on its story.

The horror switches throughout. You’ll be scared of the dark foreboding atmosphere at the beginning, but that is dropped as soon as the credits finish. It goes to gore, then to body horror, isolation and finally existential. By the end you’ll just have a bottomless pit in your stomach through the constant revelations and turns. The film just keeps going and going, there isn’t even a break in the despair, even after the film is over. The film is only 94 minutes long, but through the constant horror it feels much longer. You think it’s about to end but then something new appears and it drags you back in, making you wish it was over.

Most horror films, there is a reason behind the madness. Someone is looking or revenge, survival against the odds or just general curiosity. While there is a little bit of explanation at the end (which makes you want to watch Martyrs again to see the clues), for most of the film nothing is explained. It makes the horror even more crushing, as you don’t know why things are happening.

While there are several cast members, the main character is Anna, played by Morjana Alaoui. I can’t even start to comprehend what she as an actress had to go through while making Martyrs. Anna goes through several gruelling scenes, some so disturbing you would be forgiven it was real. Credit to her and the make-up and effects team to showing the growing despair and disgust that the one location of the film (Yep, it’s all done in one house) ends up revealing.

Martyrs goes into an exclusive club of mine for being a film I had to take a break from. The other two films were horror, but I had to pause them for being truly scary (When A Stranger Calls and Dark Water if you’re interested). Martyrs, due to that ever-present horror, exhausted me. And while I never enjoyed myself while watching it, I was pleased that I watched it. if you end up going and watching it, you will have seen one of the most bizarre, fascinating and horrifying films ever created. It’s not a film that I can see anyone truly “enjoying”, but it’s something that everyone should see at last once.

Score: 7/10 It will haunt you for the rest of your life.

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Bastille Day Review

Just before the big summer blockbusters come out in cinemas, I decided it would be time to catch up on the backlog of films that I missed the first time around. Bastille Day had been I film I thought looked interesting, but it was slowly pushed back and back more by other, newer films. But I finally went and now the review.

Bastille Day stars Idris Elba, Richard Madden, Charlotte Le Bon and Kelly Reilly and is directed by James Watkins. After a bomb accidently stolen by a pick-pocket (Madden) goes off in the middle of Paris, Briar (Elba), a CIA operative has to find the real terrorists while Paris is on the verge of revolution.

After seeing the trailer for Bastille Day, I thought this might be Idris Elba’s audition for James Bond. Everyone and their dog seem to want him to play the part and this could have shown how he deals with action. Sadly the Bond film he’s imitating is Quantum Of Solace. Crunching sound effects accompany 0.6 second-long takes, tricking our brain into believing we are seeing fighting while all we’re seeing is bodies and fists flying about.

The rest of the action is pretty standard affair. While there is a really well done chase scene over the rooftops, similar to the Tangiers chase in The Bourne Ultimatum and a layered pick-pocketing sequence both at the beginning and in the middle of the film, there is not much else. There is a big gun battle at the end between Elba and the main bad guys, but none of it has much flair. It’s all been done better before.

Briar is a “loose cannon” operative, the kind of guy who sticks his gun in the mouth of an unarmed civilian, punches men off moving motorcycles and doesn’t use door handles, instead kicking every single one down. It’s more Jack Bauer than James Bond, but apart from his fascination with caving men’s skulls in, Elba doesn’t give him any other interesting personality traits, just a terrible American accent. He also sings over the end credits, make of that what you will.

Elba being a shell of character though might be down to the script. It switches from boring to unintentionally hilarious. Some story aspects are fun, Richard Madden’s pickpocket has some good lines as he warms to working with Elba, but most of its forgettable. But there are lines that we are meant to take serious, such as, “the hashtags are spilling over…follow the hashtags…send the final hashtag.” Why try to make believable characterisation when we could just talk about what’s trending on Twitter?

While the film is set in the French capital, it doesn’t use the setting to great effect. The opening of the film, a street party at Sacré Coeur and the finale at the French National Bank are good uses of the setting, the rest of the film is in back alleys and run-down apartments. Similar to last year’s The Gunman, it’s a sad waste of a good setting.

The film is full of these moments, brushing shoulders with ideas that have been done better before. There is a shadowy conspiracy in Bastille Day about government paramilitaries being involved with the destruction which would have been good…if White House Down hadn’t done it better back in 2013. Bastille Day also takes the politicising of White House Down and tries to do its own version of it. It’s trying to put some subtext into the story events but the rest of the film is too on-the-nose to successfully have a subtle thread running through it.

Bastille Day could have been, if not great, at least entertaining. It’s not as sharp as Bond or as gritty as Bourne, instead it’s trying to take what it can from everything else without making an identity of its own.

Score: 4/10 Painfully dull and lifeless.

Blue Is The Warmest Colour Review

Preface

Now that university has ended for this year, I thought it was time to jump back to doing more retro reviews. It gives me chance to look back at a film that I might have seen a long time ago with some fresh eyes. And that’s what today’s choice is. I watched this film when it first came out in 2013 and I can’t really remember what my views on it were like. But let’s settle what they are now, one of the most controversial films of the 2010s, Blue Is The Warmest Colour.

Review

Blue Is The Warmest Colour stars Lea Seydoux, Adéle Exarchopoulos and Salim Kechiouche and is written and directed by Abdellatif Kechiche. Based on the graphic novel of the same name by Julie Maroh, the film follows teenager Adéle (Exarchopoulos) as she becomes enraptured with blue-haired tomboy Emma (Seydoux).

The script is one of the best things about the film. Written by director Kechiche, it manage to be both awkward and stilted but incredibly enthralling to listen to. The film is all about realism, it creates believable conversations and situations (sometimes to the point of being bland) rather than a glamorised Hollywood life. We see the duo move from home life to work/school and the trials of grappling with your sexuality at a time where trying to fit in is a vital part of life. The subtext is in the pauses and shy looks, adding to a much deeper storyline and character development.

This may be due to the two lead actors selling the hell out of it. Seydoux and Exarchopoulos have great chemistry first as friends then as lovers, both deservedly being nominated and winning several Best Actress and Supporting awards. But it’s Exarchopoulos who comes out on top between the two. As Adéle she moves through awkward teenage years to her young adult life and eventually into her job as a teacher, and fields a variety of different emotions. For a first time actress it’s an incredibly tall order, but Exarchopoulos manages to pull it off.

Another thing to note is the vast run time. Clocking in at just under three hours, Blue Is The Warmest Colour is a slog to get through, but somehow it’s incredibly watchable. Sure, some scenes feel redundant in the grand scheme of things when looking back, but the engaging script and Seydoux and Exarchopoulos being innately watchable means that you won’t want to turn it off half way through.

Okay, now for a talk about THAT scene.

Around half way through the film, Adéle and Emma are sat down in a park, eating a picnic. It’s a nice scene, full of the previously mentioned excellent dialogue and is symbolic for containing the character’s first kiss. Then BAM!, we are dropped into a seven minute long sex scene filled with everything and anything you could have imagined and blurring the boundaries between art and pornography. At the time, nothing this mainstream had done something so jaw-dropping and I bet a lot of tickets we sold on the idea of “OMG lesbians!” Looking back at it now, away from the controversy, it’s rather badly made. The lighting is off, there are many obtuse shots and after a while it just descends into sleaze. It’s a well known fact that both actresses rounded on the director after the scene, with Seydoux saying making it was “horrible”. Perhaps the very idea of putting sex on screen (especially when it pushes the boundaries of “real” and “fake”) is inherently voyeuristic.

For me, I found it rather cheap. The sudden jump from picnic to sex was jarring, and would have liked a bit more a build-up. Something along the lines of Sid and Gwen from The Pacific. We get the sex, but the build-up reveals a lot more about their characters and emotions on a subconscious level. Here we just jump from calm afternoon to rampant romping. And another thing, the scene is full of full body pans and decadent shots of the two actresses. There’s nothing wrong with titillation now and again, but this feels more like exhibitionism for its own sake rather than adding anything to the narrative. Add to it the director being male, it brings up the ideas of shooting the film with a hetero-majority audience in mind, using homosexuality for gratification rather than to explore meaningful relationships. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but I think it could have been constructed better.

In the end, Blue Is The Warmest Colour is one of the top films to have come out in 2013 and will be remembered as being a defining moment in cinema history. It’s one of the best love stories in film that just happens to be between two women, something that really shouldn’t be a big deal anymore.

Score: 8/10 A sweet, touching and relatable romance for the ages.