Tusk (2014) – Movie Review

”Tusk” is a movie that goes off the beaten paths. It’s a potential cult movie which will be adored by some and despised by others for decades to come. It’s almost impossible to have a neutral or no opinion on this controversial movie. It’s not a question about getting it or not, it’s simply a matter of personal tastes.

The story is quickly told. An American pod-cast host ends up in the isolated mansion of an old seaman in Manitoba who wants to share some stories about his life. One gets to know that the old fool is in fact a dangerous serial killer who despises mankind because he got intimidated, raped and tortured by the society after the brutal killing of his parents. The only thing that has ever shown respect to him was a walrus that saved him from a shipwreck in Northern Russia. In order to survive on an isolated island, the serial killer had to make the decision to kill his saviour just hours before he got saved. He regrets that decision and in order to relive this pivotal moment in his life again and to take revenge on a society that made him suffer all life long, the serial killer kidnaps, mutilates and tortures young men to transform them into walruses. While the imprisoned pod-cast host gets now mentally and physically unstable and begins more and more to act like a wild animal, his grounded partner and his cheating girlfriend realize that he is in danger. They arrive in Canada and team up with a drug addict and ex-police officer from Quebec to save their friend or what remains of his human body and soul.

The film is a grotesque that mixes black comedy, drama, horror and thriller elements all at once. The movie has many changes of tone. When you see the two main characters fooling around, the tone is humorous. A few moments later, you assist a burial after a suicide and the tone gets accusatory. The movie then cuts to an actress who is crying her heart out and complains about her cheating boyfriend as the tone gets depressing. Seconds later, she herself cheats on her boyfriend and the whole scene suddenly feels ironical. This film is filled with these fascinating changes of tones. You constantly change your mind about the different characters as well. The main character looks like a superficial idiot during his show in the beginning of the movie. His partner looks like the friendlier and smarter guy. His girlfriend looks like a confident, faithful and serious person. The villain of the story looks like an innocent old fool. Thirty minutes later, the main character has some intellectual dialogues and proves that he is not as dumb as one might have thought. His partner betrays his best friend by sleeping with his girlfriend who suddenly looks fragile, superficial and unfaithful. The old fool has become an intimidating criminal with a horrible past.

It’s not just the tone that changes, the overall mood also does. What starts as a juvenile comedy movie in the key of ”The Interview” turns into a bleak body horror film like ”The Human Centipede”, gets a touch of a crime comedy movie like ”Good Cop, Bad Cop” and becomes an existential and nearly philosophical drama like the ending of ”I Saw The Devil” for example.

Those who say that this movie is bland, superficial and thoughtless are wrong. This movie has more memorable scenes than ten others together. It’s a matter of taste whether you like these scenes or not. The scenes of the burial and the close-up on the crying girlfriend shook me up. The ring-tone of the main character’s cell phone and the weird dialogue between the French Canadian police officer and the serial killer in front of a shack made me laugh out loud. The torture scenes in the old mansion and the closing part in a zoo made me feel disgust, horror and sadness at once.

The movie also includes many cultural elements in a humorous way. The idea of including the topic of Duplessis’ orphans in the movie was brilliant and shows that the makers of the movie know what they are talking about. The food topic and especially the details about poutines in the movie were completely absurd and hilarious at the same time. The discussions about hockey and especially the Quebec Nordiques were the best jokes about Quebeckers I have ever heard and I have witnessed many lukewarm attempts.

I’m going to admit that this movie is difficult. Those who are looking for a typical American comedy movie might get shocked by the explicit torture scenes. Those who are looking for a sinister body horror film may not dig the humorous parts. This film is not for closed-minded and light-hearted people who just want to get entertained. This movie will haunt you long after it ended in one way or another. All the things mentioned above make this film something really special. It’s one of the few movies that still try to innovate at all costs. The more I think about the movie, the more I appreciate it and feel like watching it over and over again. If my review intrigued you and you consider yourself an open-minded and tough cineast, I can only warmly recommend you this incredibly entertaining mixture of the joyful and the woeful. For anyone else, try this at your own costs but don’t tell me I didn’t warn you.

 

6 out of 10 stars

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Gone Girl (2014) – Movie Review

The institution of marriage, being a foundation of civilization since the dawn of man, has adapted to subsequent eras but, in some aspects, not necessarily improved. Problems between men and women abound regardless of the type of their relationship, resulting in various commentaries and insights as to possible solutions, either temporary or permanent. Yet, the central question remains: can two people, often complete strangers when initially meeting, remain faithful to one another and build enough trust to establish a meaningful and fulfilling relationship? There have been several notable examples but, as time seems to reveal, knowing more may result in understanding less.

At last, we have a cinematic representation of the perilous ups and downs of the journey from courtship to romantic climax to marital pitfalls, all within the context of an increasingly cynical social construct. Certainly, the subject of strained marriages is nothing new to the movies, but David Fincher’s adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s best-selling novel goes deeper, bleaker and more harrowing than any other film of its kind. Fatal Attraction was a childish affair compared to the Dunnes.

As the film opens, with a rapid and nervously jumpy energy, Fincher gives a masterclass on how to establish mood in a thriller. Every scene is impactful, every shot built to further the tension and tighten the air. The conclusion seems fairly certain, and Fincher wants us to want that conventional denouement. After all, wouldn’t that be easier and safer to digest than anything else?

Yet, Fincher refuses to gratify our simplistic expectations. Flynn, in adapting her own novel, tightens up the pace and slightly alters the ending to create a remarkably paced and exquisitely fashioned narrative, but it is Fincher’s trademark cool, detached visual style complete with complex shadows and hints of blue and gray that put the finishing touch on this experience. One simply cannot look away from this film. At the halfway point, the ‘reveal’ utilized deflates any and all expectations we may have had, only to overwhelm us with endless questions as to how, what and why. The rest of the film covers those inquiries, yet still retains a level of ambiguity and forlornness. We continue to watch because it is in our interest as thriller-fans to do so, but on a subconscious level, there is the knowledge that conventionality is out of the question.

Fincher’s stylistic, sometimes smug, modus operandi is exemplified through his extraordinary ability to cast perfectly. Long understood as an overtly-handsome, sometimes aloof actor, Ben Affleck carries this film thanks to the control and forced exactness of Fincher’s directing. His aloofness, as several critics have noted, is utilized here to the greatest effect, causing the character of Nick Dunne to remain an enigma and a sympathetic man simultaneously. Very few actors could pull this off, but Affleck makes it look easy, using his broad, muscular body structure, puppy-dog eyes and down-turned smile to keep everyone guessing as to his true motive.

Motive is more crucial here than in most thrillers. Flynn’s story questions the deepest expectations and assumptions we make about other people, particularly those we think we would like to spend a significant portion of our life with. Affleck can reflect this as can Rosamund Pike, whose Siamese eyes, creamy skin and sultry voice give nothing away about herself, keeping our guesses constant throughout. Early scenes between Nick and Amy, showing their attempts to win each other over, can only truly be understood in light of the entire film, an aspect of Flynn’s novel Fincher exploits particularly well. If nothing is as it seems, what are we supposed to presume could or will happen?

As the authorities track the clues as to the whereabouts of Amy Dunne and Nick’s involvement, the notion of the simplest answer being best arises. This is frequently a logical error, yet on a certain level that may be the best method of approach. Applying this train of thought to the director, it has been argued that nearly all of David Fincher’s films have been an attempt for him to overcome the frustrating and creatively-retarding experience on his first feature, Alien 3. While remaining a simple critical tool to find thematic relations amongst an otherwise diverse career, this notion is tempting to grasp. If there is any truth to it, it may be that Fincher has finally gotten the quality of clout needed to be able to make exactly what he envisions. He has often said he usually gets about 70% of his vision on screen, the rest being compromised out. Somehow, this film feels uncompromising. It is exceedingly dark, foreboding in its attitude not just towards marriage but humanity in general. Questions will abound, but answers often remain just out of reach.

 

7 out of 10 stars

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The Drop (2014) – Movie Review

Dirty money, armed robbery and a long-standing murder mystery are just some of the more typical ingredients of this edgy crime drama that begins in a deceptively deliberate style and gradually builds to a shocking conclusion. More untypically, however, “The Drop” also features a badly abused dog and a focus on its characters that adds enormously to the richness and authenticity of Denis Lehane’s fine screenplay which is based on his 2009 short story “Animal Rescue”.

In a working-class neighbourhood of Brooklyn, “Cousin Marv’s” is a seedy bar that’s occasionally used as a “drop” for the proceeds of the vicinity’s criminal and gambling activities. Substantial amounts of cash are deposited by a variety of individuals and then held for later collection by a member of the Chechen mob that rules the area. The bar’s run by Marv (James Gandolfini) and his cousin Bob (Tom Hardy) who’s the regular bartender.

One night, Marv becomes irritated when some of the bar’s customers raise a toast to a local guy called Richie Whelan who was murdered 10 years earlier and later, on his way home, Bob sees a bleeding and very distressed-looking pit-bull puppy in a bin outside the house of one of his neighbours. Nadia (Noomi Rapace) is surprised and suspicious at first to find Bob looking into her bin but later helps him to nurse the dog back to health.

Bob, whose relationship with Nadia develops slowly and quietly, is unassuming, hard-working and seems perfectly content to take his orders from the more forceful Marv who used to own the bar until the Chechens took it over some years ago. Bob’s rather routine lifestyle suddenly changes when the bar’s robbed one night by a couple of masked men who threaten Bob and Marv at gunpoint and make off with $5,000. The Chechens hold Bob and Marv responsible for retrieving the money and are very threatening about what will happen if they don’t succeed. To make matters worse, Bob also gets stalked by a menacing and mentally unstable man called Eric Deeds (Matthias Schoenaerts) who claims to be the pit-bull’s owner and a local detective who starts asking questions about the Richie Whelan murder. Bob copes stoically with everything that happens and the way in which his story reaches its denouement is both fascinating and shocking.

The most striking thing about this movie is Tom Hardy’s wonderfully measured performance which conveys so perfectly the strength, intensity and loneliness of Bob who’s consistently underestimated because of his passive nature. The late James Gandolfini (in his last big-screen appearance), also excels as Marv who’s become bitter and resentful due to the loss of his bar, his status and the financial stability that he once enjoyed. Among the strong supporting cast, Mattias Schoenaerts stands out as the vicious psychopath Eric Deeds, who’s Nadia’s ex-boyfriend and in the opinion of most people, Richie Whelan’s killer.

“The Drop” has a moody atmosphere that’s enhanced by most of the action taking place in low-light or night-time situations and the subtle build-up of the tension that becomes such a strong feature of the film is brilliantly paced and highly effective. With its modest budget and lack of hype, it would be easy for those who haven’t seen this movie to have low expectations of it but those who have seen it will know that underestimating Bob or “The Drop” would be a big mistake.

 

8 out of 10 stars

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True Story (2015) – Movie Review

“Sometimes the truth isn’t believable. But that doesn’t mean it’s not true”. These words are spoken by Christian Longo, the man accused of brutally murdering his wife and 3 kids in 2001. The line between truth and lies is at the core of this real life story based on journalist Michael Finkel’s memoir and recollections of his conversations with Longo.

The New York Times investigative reporter Michael Finkel (Jonah Hill) is introduced to us as he is researching the story which ultimately leads to his dismissal, after it’s discovered he played fast and loose with details in order to present a more impactful story. Soon he receives an odd phone call from an Oregon writer (Ethan Suplee) who informs Finkel that his name is being used by Longo (James Franco), the suspected murderer who was recently captured in Mexico. As a disgraced journalist, Finkel seizes the opportunity to connect with Longo, and soon enough the two morally-compromised men are locked in psychological warfare, where we as viewers aren’t sure just who is using who in this oddball “friendship”.

Hill and Franco are best known for their raunchy and raucous comedies, and both deliver much “quieter” performances than what we have come to expect from them. While it’s a bit of stretch to buy Jonah Hill as a renowned writer, Franco is absolutely chilling as a manipulative psychopath. Franco is so good in the role that he overpowers Hill, which undermines what was supposed to be an intricate game of cat and mouse.

Franco is a frightening figure on the courtroom witness stand as he tells his version of that fateful night, and he is equally unnerving to watch in general conversation with Finkel. However, the single best scene in the film comes when Felicity Jones unleashes the wrath of truth on Franco’s Longo. Ms. Jones is otherwise underutilized for most of the film, as her relationship with Finkel is never really explored.

Rather than provide any substantive background on what makes either Finkel or Longo tick, we are instead left to make our own assumptions based on the framed magazine covers and the spurts of flashbacks. And thus the film’s biggest flaw is cheating us out of the backstory that might help explain the otherwise fascinating conversations/showdowns between these two flawed gents … one significantly more flawed than the other.

It’s impossible not to compare this to Truman Capote’s “In Cold Blood” and the subsequent films based on his writing experience: Capote (2005), and Infamous (2006). Stretching and bending the truth are common themes, as are intriguing and disturbing insights from the writers and the accused.

There are times True Story comes off as little more than a made for TV movie, but the best moments more than make up for it, and Franco’s portrayal will stick with you long after Finkel finally understands who and what he is dealing with. It’s also a reminder that there are people who “want the truth so badly” they “will lie to get it”. Try saying that with a wink.

 

6 out of 10 stars

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Big Eyes (2014) – Movie Review

A good bio-pic tells more than just the story of an interesting person. It portrays them in the broader context of their era in ways that offer insight into human nature. Among the most recognisable motifs of the 1950’s are paintings of mournfully cute children with exaggerated large round eyes. They became known as the ‘big-eyed waifs’ created by artist Margaret Keane who is still painting at 89 years old. The film Big Eyes (2014) is a true story of the emotional violence and domestic captivity that lay hidden behind one of the biggest art frauds in history. It is also a moving tale of how these immensely popular artworks started as expressions of the artist’s pain but came to symbolise her personal triumph.

When we first meet Margaret (Amy Adams) she is packing her bags to flee a stifling marriage. She settles in San Francisco and gets a modest job painting pictures on furniture, but her artistic passion is painting children stylised with huge eyes. One day she is swept off her feet by a self- promoting extrovert and painter Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz) and they soon marry. His paintings are ignored while her artworks attract attention but the shy Margaret is not good at selling whereas Walter is a natural salesman. On the first occasion, he is mistaken as the artist by an interested buyer and the deception proves profitable. Despite Margaret’s misgivings, the ruse becomes the business model with Margaret secretly painting while Walter claims the credit from an increasingly voracious public who were prepared to pay good money for the ‘big-eyed waifs’. He becomes a celebrity and they enjoy their new wealth, but Margaret is psychologically burdened by the deception. Walter becomes increasingly paranoid and controlling to the point where she must flee again for her safety. Margaret keeps sending paintings to Walter to get his agreement to a divorce, but soon the burden of the lie becomes too much and she goes public. Walther declares that she is mad and the celebrated case was settled in court when the judge issued an impromptu order requiring both Walter and Margaret to paint a ‘big-eyed waif’ right there in the courtroom. The truth was immediately obvious.

This is an interesting and engaging film on many levels. It is a factual account of a multi-million- dollar art fraud that was committed not by professional criminals but by accident and chance. It was perpetuated because a talented woman was seduced by an unscrupulous conman who turned abuser, keeping his wife under lock and key to safeguard the secret. It is also a poignant story of an artist who painted over-sized mournful eyes through which her painful life was seeking expression. It is a bio-pic with little dramatic embellishment. Amy Adams plays the role of domestic-abuse victim with understatement and almost waif-like wide-eyed naivette. Christoph Waltz perhaps is not ideally cast for this role as his signature persona of predictable evil commences at too high a pitch but must keep rising to maintain dramatic tension. By the time they reach court, he plays an unconvincing ranting psychotic in a performance that is almost comical.

Big Eyes does more than tell the story of the Walter and Margaret Keane. The cinematography, period sets and fashion captures the culture and style of the era. It reflects the history of women’s role in the pre-feminist era when they were assumed by nature and law to be possessions of their husbands. In recent interviews, Margaret confessed that going public was a “spur of the moment” act and she never could have imagined wilfully confronting her husband like she did. Since then, many of her big-eyed waifs have shown almost imperceptible hints of a smile.

 

7 out of 10 stars

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The Riot Club (2014) – Movie Review

Before watching the movie, I would suggest to read a little bit about the Bullingdon Club, which this movie is based on. It’s always better to watch a movie with a little bit of context.

That said, the writer, Laura Wade, explores some very complex issues regarding wealth and peer pressure. While these themes have been depicted in movies over and over again, she does not imply that the entire upper class is a bunch of arrogant pricks, who think they can buy their way out of everything. Clearly, they can, you can’t really fault them for that, but the Riot Club is not inherently an evil society. They are rich, they drink, and they sometimes lose control, as we all do. The difference is that there are no consequences for them, so they can keep on doing it. I liked how peer pressure was depicted in this film and how the guilt and responsibility of some of the members was shown. It really made me consider how we act in situations we have very little control over and how responsible should we feel in these kinds of situations.

My only complaint about the movie would be the main character (Miles Richards) being a flawless Mary Sue – rich, handsome, witty, intelligent, kind and well meaning, as well as some of the other positive characters being presented as these morally superior beings. That felt very strange for a movie, the main idea of which is that not everything is as black and white as it seems, and we all just try to justify our own actions while doing what we feel (not think) is best.

 

7 out of 10 stars

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Spectre (2015) – Movie Review

Whether you like Daniel Craig as Bond or not, you can’t deny he has been an integral part of the series’ highest points. Casino Royale is one of the greatest action thrillers ever, let alone Bond movie, and Skyfall is right up there with Goldeneye as a quintessential Bond adventure. Following the magnificent Skyfall, Spectre had some huge shoes to fill, and for the most part, it delivers exactly what you’d expect. An attention-grabbing, tense opening fight scene, a lovely title sequence (whether the song is good is debatable), and an elaborate sinister plot surrounding James Bond that puts him up against his inner demons more than ever. Does it surpass Casino Royale or Skyfall? Definitely not, but as far as reintroducing the villainous organization SPECTRE into Bond canon after 40+ years, the film does more than a serviceable job, giving us a stylish action-adventure to boot.

SPECTRE is revealed to have been affiliated with some of Bond’s biggest threats – Mr. White, Le Chiffre, Raoul Silva – all under the control of one puppeteer, the head of SPECTRE and James’ archnemesis, Ernst Stavro Blofeld. It isn’t much of a spoiler, as speculation was rampant ever since the first trailer (and hell, when the name of the movie was released). What’s important is its execution, and Spectre leaves breadcrumbs for you to follow all the way through the belly of the beast. Not only is Bond under SPECTRE’s crosshairs, but MI6 itself is experiencing a merger led by Max Denbeigh (Andrew Scott) who wants to eliminate the 00 division and focus solely on global intelligence. It’s apparent early on that Blofeld has eyes everywhere, and while he works primarily in the shadows (Christoph Waltz only having 20 or so minutes of screen time), he poses a looming threat to Bond because of his sheer cunning and a past secret that unravels itself when the two finally meet.

Many parts of the film feel like a throwback to classic Bond. The icy environments, the car chase and gadgetry, the use of a massive threatening henchman, a train fight that is heavily reminiscent of From Russia With Love, and of course the modern birthing of Bond’s greatest adversary. The acting all around is fantastic, with Craig continuing to impress as the suave womanizing secret agent. Thomas Newman turns in another wonderful musical score. But perhaps the most impressive feature is Sam Mendes’ directing. The shots in this movie are absolutely gorgeous – the action scenes are incredible to watch and easy to follow, the landscapes are fresh and vibrant, and even the simplest of scenes – Bond and Blofeld walking up to each other for the first time – are quietly introspective yet palpably tense. Tension lingers throughout every moment of Spectre even when not much is happening, and the suspense is high enough to hold your interest for the full 2-and-a-half hours.

Spectre is not perfect. Much of what happens narratively is predictable, a few lines don’t go over too well in context, and you eventually find something out about Blofeld that is pretty ridiculous taking previous Bond canon into account. Also, given Waltz’s reputation for knocking villainous roles out of the park, he’s noticeably underused here. But these flaws don’t tarnish the pure entertainment value to be had. What you want in a James Bond movie is over-the-top action surrounding the world’s greatest spy who’s up against unbeatable odds yet still comes out on top thanks to his charisma and general badassery, and this is precisely what Spectre delivers. Daniel Craig may or may not return as Bond, and if he doesn’t, this movie serves as a perfect send-off. But as the series constantly reminds us, “James Bond will return…,” and Spectre is just another welcome chapter in the immense story of everybody’s favorite super spy.

 

7 out of 10 stars

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