“Joker” Review

Joker Movie Poster Joker (2019)

Directed by Todd Phillips (The Hangover (2011)), Joker is a latest, much-hyped movie starring Joaquin Phoenix (The Master (2012)) in the titular role of Arthur Fleck or Joker, a stand-up comedian fallen on hard times, who resorts to violence in Gotham City to avenge wrongs allegedly committed against him. Being supported by no other than Robert De Niro (a role reversal from The King of Comedy (1983)), Joaquin Phoenix gives the performance in Joker than can only be described as manically jaw-dropping in its brilliance. The character insight and portrayal are also bold, vivid, without holding anything back, as the film tries to explore the origins of Arthur’s homicidal tendencies through his early history and its revelations. However, unfortunately, if we then shift our attention to anything that is not Phoenix or the character study, we can see a number of problems in the film, including the inability to suspend disbelief regarding major plot developments, the sheer predictability of the plot, and the imbalance in the spotlight given to the minor characters vis-a-vis the main one. Joker is a kind of a film that is made up solely out of one character study and cannot show anything for itself apart from its character study and the brilliant performance. If Joaquin Phoenix is not there, there is no film (thankfully, Phoenix is virtually in every shot). Why should that be a problem? Building a film around a character study is one thing, but having a “film” that is nothing but a very “self-important” character study is something completely different (because, in this case, the film seems more like a shameful star-vehicle). There is no Joker, without the Joker, it is true, but when there is nothing but Joker and everything else (not much) in the film is either very awkward, very predictable, very questionable or very puzzling, then there is simply no great film.  Continue reading ““Joker” Review”

“L’ Amant Double” Review

double_LoverL’Amant Double (Double Lover) (2017)    

François Ozon (“Frantz” (2016), “In the House” (2013)) is a French director who is uninhibited when it comes to portraying sexuality/erotica on screen and was exploring it freely in his past films “Jeune et Jolie” (2013) and  “Swimming Pool” (2003). His latest psychological thriller “L’Amant Double” is another testament to this director’s fascinating way of portraying psychologically interesting scenarios and sensuality/sexuality on screen. Based on a book by Joyce Carol Oates, “L’Amant Double” presents Chloé (Marine Vacth), a young woman who seeks help for her psychosomatic stomach pains from a psychoanalyst Paul (Jérémie Renier). It is not long before Chloé and Paul fall in love and move in together, and all is going well until Chloé becomes troubled by her lover’s personal secrets. This erotically-charged film is not without its problems, but it explores the nature of personal identity from an interesting angle, portrays sexually-charged romance unflinchingly, and plays with our beliefs, expectations and what-if questions. In the end, ‘L’Amant Double” becomes a film not so much about an obsessive romance and morbid fascinations as about the question of the extent to which one’s imagination can overrun one’s sanity and eventually completely undermine one’s perception of reality.

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“Unsane” Review

Unsane PosterUnsane (2018) 

This psychological thriller by Steven Soderbergh (“Side Effects” (2013)) has the distinction of being the first theatrical feature film shot almost entirely on iPhone cameras, and the result is impressive. Claire Foy (“Breathe” (2017)) plays Sawyer Valentini, a career-driven young woman who has just started a new job in a new city. We are invited to question her sense of reality when she becomes obsessed with the apparent stalking behaviour which is going on around her with her being the primary victim. When Sawyer is invited to spend a few days in a mental institution to rest and gather her wits, her apparent paranoia and delusions intensify. Soderbergh employs iPhone cameras very cleverly to both critique the provision of mental health help and to show Sawyer’s mounting psychological problems.

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“Everybody Knows” Trailer

Yesterday, the Cannes Film Festival 2018 unveiled its list of films to be presented, and Asghar Farhadi’s “Everybody Knows” will be shown at the festival’s opening night. Why it has the the signs to be a great psychological thriller? It comes from the director who crafted Oscar-winners “A Separation” (2011) and “The Salesman” (2016) plus it stars such great actors as Javier Bardem (“Skyfall” (2012), “Mother!” (2017)), Penelope Cruz and Ricardo Darin (“The Secret in Their Eyes” (2009)). The story itself even seems to have something of an Agatha Christie-vibe to it; definitely something to look forward to.

“The Killing of a Sacred Deer” Review

20841148_10155425815900482_4142552943347650013_nThe Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017)

This film proved to be the most divisive at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, and there was a good reason for the audience and critics to feel so confused and uncertain. “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” is a product of Yorgos Lanthimos, the director who is making his name as a master of original, unsettling and thought-provoking films; the director who is already an expert in crafting awe-inspiring settings which as much provoke as they disturb, and which the more mainstream audience could hardly even fathom. In “The Killing of a Sacred Deer”, a well-to-do surgeon (Colin Farrell) strikes an unlikely friendship with a fatherless boy, without even realising the possible negative consequences of their ever-closer union. A seemingly mundane plot here slowly transpires into something unimaginable, and with the excellent support from Nicole Kidman, and with impressive Barry Keoghan and Raffey Cassidy, this film becomes an almost brilliant interplay of the unusual, the menacing and the astonishing, while being totally effective throughout.

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Halloween Special: “Split” Review

split_ver4It is that time of the year again: time for trick-or-treating, pumpkin-carving, witches-watching and party-going! To celebrate the tradition which may date back to some ancient rituals of Celts, here is my review of the film “Split” from one of the front-men of the modern horror/thriller genre – M. Night Shyamalan (“The Sixth Sense” (1999), “Unbreakable” (2000), “The Village” (2004)). Also, to get you into the festive mood, you can check out my other reviews of horror films, all of them are listed here.

Split (2016)

This film is M. Night Shyamalan’s latest creation, which exceeded everyone’s expectations. Here, a man Kevin (James McAvoy) abducts three girls and holds them hostage in a building. Kevin suffers from a multiple-personality disorder, one of the most serious and rarest of all psychiatric illnesses. He has twenty-three different personalities, who compete for attention in his head, and the captive girls must race against time to free themselves before the emergence of the most frightening and uncontrollable twenty-fourth personality called simply “The Beast”. “Split” is very well-made, with the outstanding acting, especially by McAvoy, and a fascinating plot and topic. What about Shyamalan’s penchant for unbelievable twists, one may ask? Well, there are simply no twists, in a traditional sense of this word, or none to concern oneself when watching the film.

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The Medicine in the Movies Blogathon: Spellbound (1945)

oie_yqu5svckigzsCharlene at Charlene’s (Mostly) Classic Movie Reviews is hosting this absolutely amazing blogathon – The Medicine in the Movies Blogathon, and this review of Alfred Hitchcock’s “Spellbound” (1945) is part of the race. There are many good movies out there which explore interesting, intricate aspects of medicine: from Wellman’s overblown, but entertaining “Night Nurse” (1931) to Soderbergh’s documentary-like, but fascinating “Contagion” (2011). Psychiatry in films has not been left too behind either. Many films here focused on a mental institution itself, such as “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” (1975) and “Girl, Interrupted” (1999), while others touched on various psychiatric issues through their “serial killer” plots, such as Hitchcock’s “Psycho” (1960) and Mangold’s “Identity (2003). But, while these films often explored medical concepts and disorders indirectly, some movies really got to grips with the intricate details of psychiatry by focusing on the issues head on. “Spellbound” is one of them.  

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“The Neon Demon” Review

neon_demon_ver3_xxlgThe Neon Demon (2016)

 “Beauty isn’t everything. It’s the only thing, says Roberto Sarno inThe Neon Demon. Director of this movie, Nicolas Winding Refn, seems to have taken this statement close to heart, and crafted a film where visual beauty is, indeed, the only thing worth paying any attention to, seemingly forgetting that, in film-making, visual representation is never the only thing that counts. Refn (also director behind critically-acclaimed “Drive” (2011)) is now here also the writer, and his story is about Jesse (Elle Fanning), an underage aspiring model, who comes to LA to try her luck in show-business. After gaining initial success, Jesse realises that the climb to the top is thornier than she had previously imagined it to be, especially when a group of fellow models start to covet her natural attributes and instantaneous success. Despite its outstanding visual effects and a promising premise, “The Neon Demon” is preposterous and misguided, that kind of a film which one can easily stop watching half way through, never really caring about the ending.

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“The Handmaiden” Review

the-handmaiden-posterThe Handmaiden (2016)

The Handmaiden” is an award-winning erotic psychological drama directed by Park Chan-wook (“Oldboy” (2003), “Stoker” (2013)). Based on/inspired by the novel “Fingersmith” (2002) by Sarah Waters, the film centres on a young maid, Sook-Hee, who arrives to the estate of an affluent book-lover, Kouzuki, to be a servant to his niece Lady Hideko. However, nothing is as it seems, because Sook-Hee’s main employer is actually a conman, self-named Count Fujiwara, who made a deal with the young maid to con Lady Hideko out of her inheritance. Fiercely intelligent and provoking, “The Handmaiden” does three things brilliantly: it toys cleverly with its audience’s imagination, and challenges its formed beliefs and visual interpretations; touches a sensitive nerve with its poetic and erotic imagery; and provides a stunning cinematic experience.

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Hitchcock’s “Rebecca” Review

rebecca_ver4Rebecca (1940)

“…I suppose sooner or later in the life of everyone comes a moment of trial. We all of us have our particular devil who rides us and torments us, and we must give battle in the end” (Daphne Du Maurier “Rebecca” (1938)). 

 **SPOILER ALERT** 

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock, “Rebecca” is adapted from the best-selling novel by Dalphne Du Maurier, and tells of a mysterious widower, Maxim de Winter (Laurence Olivier), the owner of a grand estate Manderley, who stumbles across a shy and awkward young girl (Joan Fontaine) while on a trip in Monte Carlo. De Winter hurriedly marries our heroine, but upon the arrival to his estate, the new Mrs de Winter feels like a trespasser. She realises that every corner of the house is permeated by the spirit of Maxim’s beautiful, charming and intelligent previous wife, Rebecca, and senses that her husband still re-lives the happy moments that he had with his former wife. 

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“Elle” Review

elle-2016-poster-2Elle (2016)

**SPOILER ALERT**

A Dutch director known for “Basic Instinct” (1992) and “Total Recall” (1990), Paul Verhoeven, has produced his first French-language film to date – “Elle”, based on a novel by Philippe Dijan (who is also known as a book writer behind “Betty Blue” (1986)). “Elle” has already competed for a Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival 2016, and deals with a very sensitive topic of a rape perpetuated on a successful businesswoman Michele Leblanc, whose complex relationship with her family and the deeply-seated psychological childhood trauma lead her to have an unconventional response to the attack. This film is as disturbing as it is engrossing, and, overall, proves to be a very satisfying experience, thanks to the outstanding performance by Isabelle Huppert (“The Piano Teacher” (2001)) and to the masterful (though also confusing) mix of a psychological thriller, a Hitchcockian detective story and French black humour.        

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“The Double” vs. “Enemy”

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The question of personal identity and its duplication have been fascinating people for centuries. From Edgar Allan Poe’s “William Wilson” to Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake”, the theme has been pervasive in almost every form of art. When it comes to movies, such films as “Sommersby” (1993), “Face/Off” (1997), “The Prestige” (2006) or “Black Swan” (2010) may immediately come to mind. However, just recently, scriptwriters/directors have decided to approach the topic more directly, and we now see two films – Denis Villeneuve’s “Enemy” (2014) and Richard Ayoade’s “The Double” (2013) gracing cinema screens in the hope to awe. Although these two movies have their share of differences, e.g., “The Double” is far wittier and more satirical than “Enemy“, these two films share the same theme, and, therefore, it may be interesting to make a brief comparison between the two. Also, besides the “doppelganger” theme, what these two films also have in common is the relative novelty of the directors’ productions. “The Double” is Ayoade’s directional debut and for Villeneuve, ‘”Enemy” is only his second truly mainstream movie after “Prisoners” (2013), also starring Jake Gyllenhaal (“Donnie Darko” (2001), “Zodiac” (2007)).

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“I, Anna” Review

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I, Anna (2012)

I, Anna” is a 2012 noir mystery thriller starring Gabriel Byrne and Charlotte Rampling. The film is a directional debut of Barnaby Southcombe (who is known for a TV series and who is also Rampling’s son). In “I, Anna”, the plot centres around a lonely woman, Anna Welles (Rampling), who becomes the centre of attention for the detective Bernie Reid (Byrne), who, in turn, investigates the murder of a man in a London apartment. As Bernie becomes infatuated with the mysterious woman and her strange behaviour, he realises that she may have more to do with the murder case than initially meets the eye.

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“Black Swan” Review

Black Swan (2010)   

**SPOILER ALERT**

Directed by Darren Aronofsky (‘Requiem for a Dream’ (2000)), ‘Black Swan’ is an ambitious psychological horror film promising to submerge the viewer into the world of classical ballet, game of sexual seduction and pure psychological delirium, but has it delivered? 

In ‘Black Swan’, Natalie Portman plays Nina, a ballet dancer in a respected dance company headed by Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel). Leroy is to stage a new production of ‘Swan Lake’, and chooses Nina as his Swan Queen. Although Leroy is sure that Nina can dance the beautiful, fragile and innocent White Swan, he is not convinced that she can dance the Black Swan, who is a confident, strong, seductive and lustful ‘twin’ of the White Swan. There is also another ballerina in the company, named Lily (Mila Kunis), who seems to fit the Black Swan image perfectly. She is more in-tune with her sensual nature and is more relaxed on stage than Nina. There is also Beth Macintyre (Winona Ryder), a retiring ballerina, who is both the source of Nina’s inspiration and a warning for her. As Nina’s debut in ‘Swan Lake’ approaches, Nina’s domineering mother (Barbara Hershey) exert more and more pressure on her, and Nina’s acquaintance with Lily produces some unexpected results, leading to Nina’s rapid physical and psychological breakdown/metamorphosis.

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