Posts Tagged ‘film review’

If you know anything about John Madden’s espionage thriller, The Debt, then like a lot of people you probably grumbled over the premise. Another Holocaust movie, really? Again? Well, actually that couldn’t be more wrong. The Debt isn’t the tale of the holocaust, there isn’t an SS uniform in sight. It isn’t the tale of the struggle of the Jews, and those who tried to shield them. Instead, it tells the story of three Mossad agents, sent to Berlin in 1965, to track down and kill a Nazi doctor known as the Surgeon of Birkenau, Dr Vogel. There is obviously supposed to be some parallels with Josef Mengele – who performed horrifying experiments on Jews in concentration camps, often without anaesthetic – and is probably the most famous SS doctor.  Mengele himself, avoided capture until he drowned in 1979 in Buenos Aires. The Debt tells the story a little differently…

From the off, you have to be impressed by the ensemble cast. Dame Helen Mirren’s name carries a lot of weight in show business, and I was very impressed with her performance as per usual. Joining her was Jessica Chastain, who has had a rather undulating career. That being said, she is still young and does has the acting chops, and if she keeps picking roles like this – she is sure to gain a lot of respect within the industry. Mirren and Chastain play the same character, just 32 years a part. Rachel Singer was the young, inexperienced, yet highly trained Massod agent sent to Berlin to join the two other agents in capturing their target and bringing him back to Israel for trial.  And while I really don’t think Chastain and Mirren look at all a like, the performances from both actresses made the whole thing believable. Rachel, of the three agents, had the hardest task. She was to go to the Surgeon, now a gynaecologist under an assumed name, and confirm his identity. Once this was done, they would strike and smuggle him out of Germany and back to Israel. Given he is a gynaecologist, that involved several, unnerving trips to see him with fertility problems.

If you’re female, you will know that any trip to the gynaecologist is unnerving. You’re at your most vulnerable, and its not a pleasant experience. Couple that with knowing the guy whose poking around in your special place is a man who has committed unspeakable atrocities – and he doesn’t want to get caught and keeps asking his patient questions… well, saying Rachel was on edge would be an understatement.  Jesper Christensen did a really good job playing Vogel also. He had just enough bedside manner and charisma to make him seem both normal and sinister at the same time. Knowing who he was and what he had done, and seeing the veil he was portraying only excelled his latter performances when he revealed his true colours.

But The Debt isn’t just about the mission, and what happened on the mission. Ultimately it is about the mistakes we make when we are young, that we still come to regret and hold on to years later. Kieran Hinds (who seems to be in everything at the moment) and Sam Worthington played David, the second of the Massod agents, and the one with clearly the most intent to see the mission through. When things go wrong and the group are forced to lie about the Surgeons fate, this leads to a lie that haunts all three of them for three decades. None more so than David, who lost his whole family in the gas chambers, and at one point says all he wants in life is for the world to know and accept what really happened. And that can only happen with a trial. The regret that David feels is ultimately intertwined with his love for Rachel, and the relationship they never got to have.

In the end, the problem is clear. It is not that they lied about what happened to the Surgeon, it was that they were still doing it thirty years later. I don’t want to ruin the film if you haven’t seen it, but eventually a crisis in conscience occurs, and culminates in Rachel meeting the Surgeon one last time, all those years later. If you didn’t already know, Helen Mirren is bad ass and she proves it here once again. And somehow I found her fight scenes much more exciting than the Bourne-esque Chastain fights scenes from earlier in the film. Maybe its just the fact that there is such a good essence of time in the film, and that Madden has managed to precisely nail the thirty year crescendo on the head until it exploded. I find similar films often have a good twisting build up, but the finale is never as good as the journey. For me, The Debt waited just long enough to build the tension and for us to watched on nervously as we saw what became of Rachel and Vogel’s fate all those years later.

For the most part, the only bad things people have to say about The Debt is:
a) Why do none of the young/old versions of each other look alike? They do have a point.
b) And why is this movie called The Debt?

Seriously, who do they owe something to? If you really think about it, that is such a lousy name. Had the film just been about the mission, I’d have said that the debt was what the Mossad agents were repaying Vogel – by bringing him to justice. On the other hand you could have a bear sized stretch and say it was a debt they owed to society in telling the truth.

Overall, a good solid performance from all those involved. The plot was a bit weak at times, but what it lacked in the writing it made up for in the direction. The Debt is a holocaust movie with a different twist, yet without sacrificing the gravity behind the situation. I recommended watch. Check out the trailer below.

8/10

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We’re getting serious today people. Don’t worry, it won’t happen too often… so bear with me! 

I have a unique perspective on today’s film that I am reviewing, as its a story very close to my heart. ‘The Lady’ starring Michelle Yeoh and David Thewlis is a biographical film based on the life of Aung San Suu Kyi. For those of you that don’t know her, she is the Burmese pro-democracy leader who spent 15 years under house arrest while trying to fight for democracy in a country heavily weighed by oppression due to the many years of military rule. It was a story I knew well as I myself am half Burmese, as my father was born in Northern Burma, in the mountains in a place called Bawdwin. He immigrated when he was just five years old with his nine brothers and sisters, and his mum and dad. Despite the fact that my dad was so young when he left, I very much feel the Burmese part of my heritage thanks to growing up surrounded by Burmese family. It is a part of me that I am very proud of. And so, when I discovered they were making an Aung San Suu Kyi biopic, I was honestly thrilled. I promoted it on every social network site I could in order to raise its profile, as I felt that the more people who watched the film, the more people would be aware of Burma’s plight and therefore there would hopefully be a greater push for change.

Aung San Suu Kyi; The resemblance between her and Michelle Yeoh is quite remarkable.

My expectations therefore were high. And in some ways it meant that I was likely to be disappointed when I finally saw the film. But really, there was only one thing I wanted – it had to do Aung San Suu Kyi justice. Not necessarily her story, as its a story the majority of the world will be familiar with. What I felt was more important, was that they captured Suu’s essence. That they showed her true intent, and the person she was despite the extent of the turmoil she’d gone through. And in some ways this was achieved, however in others – it was not.

‘The Lady’, at its core, is neither a biopic or a pro-democracy film, its a love story. And I can’t really stress this enough. If you go into this film expecting to see Suu in every scene, with a huge emphasis on her time under house arrest, you will be disappointed. Instead, we are shown, through back and forth scenes between both parties, the struggle Suu and her husband, Michael, endured throughout her time fighting for democracy. Why? Well, this is a hollywood style movie, directed by Luc Besson and starring actors who are all too familiar with the big screen. Every movie takes an angle, especially in hollywood, even when that story is true. And so the plight of possibly the greatest living humanitarian turns into a love story. Its not really a decision I agree with in all honesty. However, it was one I expected. I have seen the same thing happen before. Take ‘Hotel Rwanda’ – a film about the Rwandan genocide. It doesn’t really give a full story of what really happened, and hides behind the sheen of hollywood. ‘Sometime in April’ – its low budget, indie counterpart, is a much better film. And I don’t mean this in terms of enjoyment, ‘Sometime in April’ is probably the single most horrific film I’ve ever watched. It literally scarred me for days, and I still think of it often. And as much as it was an unnerving and unpleasant experience, I am grateful for that. Because ‘Sometime in April’ really told the story of the Rwandan genocide. It did what it had to to show the truth, and pull the viewers in so they knew what it felt like to be there. The fear, and the horror seemed to translate so much more strongly than in its Hollywood counterpart.

Burma VJ

Now, I am not a masochist – by any means – but I can’t help feel that a film about such a subject matter, needs to make you hurt. It needs to make you feel helpless and yet empowered all simultaneously. It needs to make you want to act. ‘The Lady’ didn’t do that. Don’t get me wrong, it is a very well made film. Michelle Yeoh is absolutely stunning throughout the film, and she gives the performance of her life. David Thewlis is so effortless in transforming into Michael, Suu’s husband, that you believe every ounce of pain that is etched on his face. And their scenes together look like they came together with ease, which just helps translate the love the pair had for each other. And there are moments throughout the story where you can’t help feel real pain, and even tears. However, ‘The Lady’ is a movie of two halves. The first half shows us Suu’s beginnings, and rather the endings of her father – Aung San, a leading figure in Burma who achieved independence. It then cuts to her life, with her two boys and Michael in Oxford, England. It is only when her mother has a stroke does she return, and driven by the atrocities she witnesses while visiting her mother in Rangoon, she begins on her long road to democracy, leading to several powerful scenes including Suu’s first speech announcing her leadership of the NLD, and a scene where she stands up against a row of heavily armed soldiers when they stop her meeting. However, eventually, the film becomes more about Suu and Michael than it is about Burma. In fact, the penultimate scene shows Suu reacting to the news of Michael’s death – a scene very well acted by Yeoh I might add. It is this fact that hallmarks ‘The Lady’ as a love story.

Michelle Yeoh as Aung San Suu Kyi, confronting some Junta soldiers.

I would personally have liked more of Suu’s political story and less of her relationship with Michael. I am in no way belittling their plight – the personal sacrifices she made for the benefit of her country and her people are ones I doubt many could make in her place. And it was an important part of her story. However, I felt there was something missing by the end of the film. And thus I was left disappointed.

That being said, the rating of this film depends on Luc Besson’s intentions. If this was meant to be a love story than he did a very good job. If this was supposed to be a biopic and tale of the oppression in Burma, than a lot is left lacking.

So should you see this film? Yes. Despite its downfalls, it does give a good view of the sort of woman Suu is, and a picture of the plight she has overcome. And it may teach you a few things you didn’t know about the 1991 Nobel Peace prize winner a long the way. But, if its a true view of Burma that you want – watch ‘Burma VJ’ – the documentary made by Burmese video journalists despite the danger weighing on them.

To conclude, ‘The Lady’ is a film that could have been so much more. However, I believe it does achieve what it set out to do. And for me, it does capture the essence of Suu Kyi, and that was all I asked, if nothing else. To be frank, I applaud any film that raises the profile of the political situation in Burma. However, it is important to remember that ‘The Lady’ is the Hotel Rwanda to ‘Burma VJ’s’ ‘Sometime in April’.

8/10

NB. I do urge you however to watch either ‘The Lady’ or ‘Burma VJ’. It is always good to educate ourselves about what is going on around the world, whether that be a Hollywood version or the truth straight from the horses mouth. And given the low level of journalistic coverage in Burma in the last two decades, its important to see the truth. Please check out both trailers below.

I’m sticking to what I think would be an ideal Freudian list of movies again today. And today’s movie is a classic example of exploring the deepest darkest depths of the human psyche. Now, I’m not sure if I’ve ever revealed this to you fine handsome people – but I love Alfred Hitchcock. I’m not exactly his target audience, and trying to get any of my friends to enjoy any of his masterpieces is like being in chess club and asking the hottest guy in the school to prom. But that being said, at the tender age of 21 – there are few of his movies I haven’t seen or don’t own, and I see his ground breaking originality being cloned in practically every thriller I watch. And so, if you are a fan of thrillers, and you don’t mind a movie being older than a good bottle of Chardonnay, then I insist you check out some of his films. His most famous movie is probably ‘Psycho’ which I definitely consider to be the first psychological thriller ever made. That’s my Hitch – actually inventing a genre… But in terms of enjoyment, I would recommend any of his Jimmy Stewart or Grace Kelly partnerships – or hell the film they made together – Rear Window. Or if it’s adventure that you want, check out North by Northwest. Carry Grant climbing down Mount Rushmore… It doesn’t really get any better than that.

And so, now to the movie at hand. Introducing Marnie, a twisted psychological drama that was really the last of Hitch’s greats. Starring Tippi Hendren (of The Birds fame – check that one out, it’s brill!) and the extremely handsome Sean Connery, Marnie tells the tale of a female thief with pretty obvious deep rooted issues.  Connery plays the rather dark and sinister man who decides to take this woman on as his ‘pet project’ if you will. Trying to burrow into this woman’s mind, with the intention of trying to get her to trust him. 

Marnie is a movie for people who think they know how to interpret the workings of the inner mind, but not necessarily for ones who actually can. Those individuals may find the plot and unsubtly of Marnie’s psychological downfall to be cheesy and dated. That being said, Marnie was made in 1964 and movies of this kind were not often made and so our initial predisposition to ‘psychological thrillers’ and their associated clichés have to be set to one side. Hendren’s character Marnie begins the movie as a strong, independent and quick witted criminal. And so it is hard not to make associations to Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew when you see by the end of the movie that she is totally and utterly submissive, and above all a broken woman thanks to Mark’s (played by Connery) aggressive whittling. It would be a mistake to assume that it was the trauma she suffered as a child that broke her. Granted Marnie was disturbed, and would have eventually needed to face those demons she had hidden for so long. However Mark didn’t expose those demons with the intention of helping her – that can be said for certain. Getting to the root of Marnie’s darkest and deepest fears was all just another means to an end for Mark, who coincidently indicated – more than once – that he was someone fascinated with both behaviour, animalistic traits and trying to make animals trust him. It is this fact that totally outlines the movie. At first glance you could be fooled into believing Marnie is a love story about a strong man enabling the woman he loves to regain control of her life by facing a traumatic event from her childhood. But you would be wrong. Marnie is so much darker and twisted than that. Mark told Marnie that he had gotten a leopard called Sophie to trust him. She belittled his achievement – which in itself is a sign of her independent and strong manner. He responded by saying how great an achievement it was when the leopard is a wild animal. In this movie – Marnie is the wild animal.

You have to ask yourself, why would Mark show such a great interest in Marnie. And why would he go out of his way to protect her from her own criminal deeds. The answer is simple really – Marnie was Marks new project. He indicated that women were the biggest predators of all – again a reference back to animals, and so he was challenging himself. He reckoned if he could get her to trust him, that would be his biggest achievement. Much more so than the leopard. Some would argue that he was trying to help her. But you have to remember that he recognised her instantly when she applied for a job at his firm. He knew she was a thief and made that decision then to tame her, if you will. This occurred long before he knew how disturbed she was, nor that she had a traumatic past. When you realise that was his intent all along, it makes every action after that much more sinister. Yes he did help her bring to light a hidden traumatic event which ultimately led to her facing her demons and helping her neuroticism. But that was just a means in order to break her. Which he succeeded in doing…

Was she broken?

Ask yourself – if we all had to face our deepest, darkest insecurities and the price of that was to be wholly and totally dependent on another human being, would you want to? We all have secrets and moments from our past that we would like to forget. In Marnie’s case she had forgotten them, so that her mind could cope. She wasn’t necessarily better off not knowing, she suffered day to day with painful reminders of this unspoken event which often left her acting out of sorts. However, Mark wasn’t unburying those secrets so he could help his wife, but so that she would finally open herself up and accept him – trust him with every fibre. Had Marnie discovered her past in a doctor’s office as opposed to it being thrust upon her in an unsafe environment by a man with twisted intentions, then this would be a very different film. But she unburdens herself finally, and who does she see? Still, the loveless mother who is icy cold, and then the kind faced, strong armed handsome man who has been with her throughout this perilous journey. Marnie just wanted to be loved all along. She constantly asked her mother why she didn’t love her. So to then have this contrasted with Mark who made her feel safe and protected as he endeavoured to clean up every mess she’d ever made, blind sided Marnie and so she fell in love with him. And more than that – she trusted him. 

Dear God Sean Connery was a handsome devil! Even in this rather sinister picture...!

Still think he was just trying to help her? Well there is one last damning piece of evidence. The final nail in the coffin. The book. Throughout the movie Mark reads books about animals, behaviour, zoology – he often referred to it as his field, on top of his usual work. But the only book of real significance is totally framed by Hitchcock, entitled: Psycho-sexual Behavior in the Criminal Mind.

Pretty strange bedtime reading don’t you think? Mark admitted himself that he was interested in that field. But he was reading that book not to help Marnie, but again to gain control of her. To unroot her insecurities in order to gain her trust. And the sick thing about this movie is that it works. By the final scene, she is very much a broken woman. She tells him she wants to stay with him, and doesn’t want to go to prison. When just a few short months ago she couldn’t stand him even touching her. But like all Hitchcock films, Hitch leaves a lot to interpretation and a lot of guessing work is done throughout the movie. I can’t help thinking that Marnie would quickly become like the leopard in the picture – just a trophy of his triumphs. Meaning he’d quickly tire of her now he had fulfilled his accomplishment. Mark so coldly tells Marnie his first wife is dead. Perhaps he tired of her too… Marks desire to tame a woman was also echoed by the supporting character – Lil. She is totally infatuated with Mark, but she is also already willing to do anything Mark pleases. There is no challenge in that. And so I doubt Mark would ever have found her attractive.

Anyway, to conclude, Marnie is most definitely a puzzling, solid thriller that will see you reading into every word and every scene. I will leave you with two little gems – firstly, this picture of Hitch in Marnie – once again he inserted himself into his movie… And also this charming quote from the production of the film.

After rehearsing just a few scenes with co-star Sean Connery,  Tippi Hendren asked Alfred Hitchcock, “Marnie is supposed to be frigid – have you seen him?” referring to the young Connery. Hitchcock’s reply was reportedly, “Yes, my dear, it’s called acting.”

It's like spotting 'Where's Wally!'

Overall, a tantalizing watch and a psychologist’s wet dream… A solid 8/10.